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The Most Food for the Time & Space

 
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I met a fellow garden blogger who's interested in permaculture and local to me, and we discussed a wide range of topics over the course of two in-person visits and many back-and-forth email conversations between spring 2020 and spring 2021. The result is a three-part Q&A series I wrote for Cat in the Flock that covers the topics voluntary simplicity, suburban homesteading, and getting the most food for the time and space in your garden.

Claire Schosser writes Living Low in the Lou, a blog chronicling her and her husband Mike's journey of reduced energy consumption and self-sufficiency. She opted for early retirement back in the mid-1990s (with Mike following in 2001) by reducing their expenses through living simply, growing much of their own food, and forgoing many of the shiny new conveniences that the rest of us take as givens. For those outside the area, "the Lou" is a popular nickname for St. Louis, Missouri. The Schosser/Gaillard homestead is located on a one-acre plot in suburban St. Louis and includes many mature, productive nut and fruit trees, an extensive annual garden, an herb garden, and a glassed-in front porch that functions as a greenhouse.

The last post in the series focuses on Claire's strategy for becoming as self-sufficient as possible by making gardening decisions based on "the most food in the time and space."



Claire and Mike's gardening highlights:

- A very productive strawberry patch
- Perennial leeks and 'Profusion' sorrel
- Eschewing high-space hoggers like peas
- Dent corn as the primary grain
- A traditional cellar storage system



Curious to know how others of you have edited your gardening plans for maximum yield as well as practice and personal taste. Note Claire started out with a huge asparagus bed but then discovered she and her husband just weren't going to make use of it the way she'd envisioned. While certain grains might sound fun to grow, perhaps Claire's realization that grinding dent corn is the best option for her resonates with other permies out there? What are your thoughts on all of this?
 
pollinator
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It depends what you want, are you growing expensive luxuries and buying bulk basics? If so then herbs fresh beans and weird salad leaves might be the "best" for you. There's a wonderful thread on here https://permies.com/t/151516/Plant-Grow-Percentage-Total-Calories  that concentrates on calories per unit area if that is the goal.
I get about 1kg of peas per m2 I get around 4kg of lettuce from 1m2 in the same time frame, so in my opinion the peas give more food value per meter than lettuce does. I can only eat so much lettuce before it either bolts or the slugs get it but peas freeze.
 
Lisa Brunette
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Skandi Rogers wrote:It depends what you want, are you growing expensive luxuries and buying bulk basics? If so then herbs fresh beans and weird salad leaves might be the "best" for you. There's a wonderful thread on here https://permies.com/t/151516/Plant-Grow-Percentage-Total-Calories  that concentrates on calories per unit area if that is the goal.
I get about 1kg of peas per m2 I get around 4kg of lettuce from 1m2 in the same time frame, so in my opinion the peas give more food value per meter than lettuce does. I can only eat so much lettuce before it either bolts or the slugs get it but peas freeze.



Skandi, thanks for the link to the other thread - I shared it with Claire, too.

On the pea vs. lettuce thing... maybe the bolting is a factor. But I put in a row of peas and a row of lettuce the same length, and I think the lettuce is going to yield more food, though maybe not calories since lettuce contains less. Plus peas offer protein. I also eat the shoots, so for me it's a good crop, besides the nitrogen-fixing component.
 
pollinator
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We have very limited space here. So we try to concentrate food growing on things that would take a more significant bite out of our food budget. While we experiment with a few potatoes and other similar crops, we concentrate on the things that cost more, are harder to find, or even tastes that can't be replicated commercially (tomatoes!).

We still struggle with a few. Also, "the most food" is fairly general. The most in terms of weight? Nutrient density? Calories? Scarcity in the market? Can the choices follow through the winter like kale and root crops? I think all of those are valid considerations as well as planning categories. We try to be as diverse as possible while leaning towards specialty foods or foods that cost considerably more and on FLAVOR. As a long-time forager, I always say there is a HUGE difference between edibility and palatability. My heavy lean is towards the latter though if something negative happens the former may become important as well.

If I had to guess, I think once structures and hard surfaces are removed, we're on about 1/10th an acre of usable land. If I strip out the north side with perpetual shade (where most of the composting happens) and other low light...considerably less. Most of the food production happens in the backyard. That probably reduces optimum space to about .06 acres. We can't do everything but have a lot going on. We also look at ornamentals that might be pressed into food if something happens. People would rob tomatoes out front, but they leave hostas alone. I've never eaten hostas but could in a pinch. We mix a lot of herbs into pollinator areas we could also use if things got tight.

Some of us also have to fly under the radar to avoid the acceptability police. My urban area might have a cow with some practices. They're looking at compost policy. They have a weed ordinance that they're trying to fix somewhat since pollinator gardens get cited. They're trying to respond to urban gardeners for solving food desert issues but have stated they want us to register with the city. What the hell for I wonder? Anyone can truck in poison-laden plastic produce from anywhere in the world but local gardeners need to be monitored?
 
Lisa Brunette
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echo minarosa wrote:We have very limited space here. So we try to concentrate food growing on things that would take a more significant bite out of our food budget. While we experiment with a few potatoes and other similar crops, we concentrate on the things that cost more, are harder to find, or even tastes that can't be replicated commercially (tomatoes!).



echo, tomatoes seem to be the gold standard garden food for that reason - once you've tasted homegrown, you can't go back. What else do you grow there in KY? I'm in the same USDA zone.

We still struggle with a few. Also, "the most food" is fairly general. The most in terms of weight? Nutrient density? Calories? Scarcity in the market? Can the choices follow through the winter like kale and root crops? I think all of those are valid considerations as well as planning categories. We try to be as diverse as possible while leaning towards specialty foods or foods that cost considerably more and on FLAVOR. As a long-time forager, I always say there is a HUGE difference between edibility and palatability. My heavy lean is towards the latter though if something negative happens the former may become important as well.



I think for Claire "the most food" is calories, and I suspect the fullness factor, since she and her husband are trying to grow as much of their own food as possible.

If I had to guess, I think once structures and hard surfaces are removed, we're on about 1/10th an acre of usable land. If I strip out the north side with perpetual shade (where most of the composting happens) and other low light...considerably less. Most of the food production happens in the backyard. That probably reduces optimum space to about .06 acres. We can't do everything but have a lot going on. We also look at ornamentals that might be pressed into food if something happens. People would rob tomatoes out front, but they leave hostas alone. I've never eaten hostas but could in a pinch. We mix a lot of herbs into pollinator areas we could also use if things got tight.



That's pretty admirable, and it sounds like you've thought through some scenarios, a sort of plan A, plan B, etc. As for ornamentals, it was suggested to us to remove the rose and lilac and put in natives instead, but we get a tremendous use out of both ornamentals - medicinally and as a culinary component, they're extremely versatile. I also use the petals for both in sachets to keep drawers fresh.

Some of us also have to fly under the radar to avoid the acceptability police. My urban area might have a cow with some practices. They're looking at compost policy. They have a weed ordinance that they're trying to fix somewhat since pollinator gardens get cited. They're trying to respond to urban gardeners for solving food desert issues but have stated they want us to register with the city. What the hell for I wonder? Anyone can truck in poison-laden plastic produce from anywhere in the world but local gardeners need to be monitored?



Yeah, that's definitely a downside. We're lucky in that many of our neighbors have chickens and bees... the burg is pretty supportive of that. But we haven't tackled our front yard yet except to install a few trees... I'm wondering how the hood will react when we get rid of the lawn. Most of our 1/4-acre is in the back, behind a fence. I'm with you on the registration. I'd tell them to take a hike.
 
pollinator
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We're always trying to increase our food production.  I'm constantly trying new things to determine how they'll grow in our climate and most important, how they'll taste.  I do grow a few things that we don't eat such as radishes, but my mom loves them.  Personally I'm not a big tomato fan unless it's warmed by the sun and eaten straight from the plant, but I do process them into sauce and hope to dehydrate some this year as well.  

I grow rhubarb, asparagus and alpine strawberries from seed, which can take a bit longer to harvest but for far less than the cost of buying roots/crowns/established plants.  Horseradish and comfrey are increased by root cuttings and although we don't use comfrey internally, it's value in the garden is tremendous.  Herbs are increased through division and cuttings.  Blooms from dandelion and wild violets made some wonderful jelly this spring.  

I do grow peas as my husband loves them cooked and I love them raw.  My biggest bean harvest last year was from a 4' row of cut short beans that have been saved by my family for generations and will now be a staple in my garden as well as they outproduced larger plantings of bush beans and half-runners.

A root cellar has always been on my list of things to build but we've yet to build it.  In the meantime we keep root crops such as potatoes packed in newspaper lined milk crates in our utility room which has a concrete floor and only enough heat to keep pipes from freezing.  My dream is to top our cellar with a cellar house that can be used as a studio/workshop.
 
pollinator
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Our deer-resistant space out back is about 40’ x 40’, so we are very limited on space too. We do grow potatoes, onion family and squash out front but it’s always a challenge to get the squash past the small plant stage when the deer will eat them.

We grow soup peas for dry protein instead of beans, because they dry down reliably for us by early August, whereas beans often get rained on while they are drying in Sept and go moldy. Most people plant their peas quite far apart, so of course they don’t get much food per sq ft from them. Planted close together in bands or wide rows (1.5-2” apart in all directions) you get a lot more peas, and you don’t have to build as much length of trellis either.
 
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echo minarosa wrote:
Some of us also have to fly under the radar to avoid the acceptability police. My urban area might have a cow with some practices. They're looking at compost policy. They have a weed ordinance that they're trying to fix somewhat since pollinator gardens get cited. They're trying to respond to urban gardeners for solving food desert issues but have stated they want us to register with the city. What the hell for I wonder? Anyone can truck in poison-laden plastic produce from anywhere in the world but local gardeners need to be monitored?


As I have mentioned before, policies are quite different here in Germany (registering if you grow food? What??)
But some principles still apply. In areas with such strange policies I would try to be part of the change, if you can spare some time and energy. In my town, I am member of the local environmental society which in term works together with the local gardener clubs. Not sure if they exist widely in the US but here every village has its gardener club which caters to the more traditional population (both for ornamental and food growing, organizing tree pruning events, and recently more and more lectures on sustainable gardening).
Our environmental society also has a seat in the local council gatherings - but we have more of a counselling position than a real veto option.

There is also a bimonthly community gazette where we publish articles on nature, habitat upkeeping and sustainable gardening.

When people see that sustainability is nothing for tree-huggers and freaks but comes from your neighbourhood, it gets better acceptance.

We are noticing changes. Our mayor is very keen on making the town "green", and the local greenery maintenance team does only use hot steam to keep the roadsides clean - and in the case of my garden they even left out the steam to save the centhaurea that was growing outside my fence! The workers of the team will receive some further instructions on how to plant more diverse shrubs and flowers etc.
In June I will make an excursion to a meadow with the 4th graders of our town as it is so important for them to get in contact with real nature. Most children live in homes with gardens, but probably only know a few plant and animal species. If you miss the window of opportunity while they are young they will not care about the environment when they are adults.
Yes, I know the topic is about food but I think all these topics are linked: sustainable gardening, food production, a link to nature.
 
pollinator
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I have never planned a meal or grew anything based on calories but I grow food.
After harvest every year I lay a foot of spoiled hay over my garden beds. In January I cover that with chicken and cow manure.  
That's the only hard work I do except for corn.
 For food per sq.ft I will say squash. I pop in my started indoor plants and get massive amounts. Maybe up to 20lb per plant.
Okra, Just space a few inches apart in April and I pick almost daily massive amounts from late may till frost.
Then I would say malibar spinach and pole beans if trellised take little space and give huge amounts of food.  
   I have plenty of garden space but these I have mentioned get only a small garden plot to provide meals for the entire year for our family and then some.
 
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Relatively new to gardening..... father always gardened but I never had much mind to learning how and what he did. Until my Husband and I purchased 10.5 acres of mountain woods in TN. All I knew was that I had this burning desire to provide food for us.... two at the time and now three as were pregnant and very excited to sow into our little one our new way of living. We refuse to mass clear land.. aka bulldoze it all down, so we cut a clearing with chainsaws and built two raised beds... there is such rich soil here but due to the mass webbing of root systems it’s not easy to break through the top layers of dirt. I began to study.... built our raised bed out of rotting logs and was blessed with full dirt that came from a clean site (half of the soil in this area is a dense yellowish clay (which is good for building our cob home but not for plant growth) I knew I needed to grow a variety of foods to sustain us if the world shut down and I couldn’t go to the local market because I am not vaccinated, I learned about companion planting. I have one 10x30 raised bed and one 10x 20 raised bed and grow shelling peas, bush beans, dry beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, radishes, onions, lettuce, mellons, broccoli, cauliflower sweet potatoes (white and Orange) carrots, eggplant, zucchini, winter squash. By learning companion planting and integrating some vertical gardening I’ve been able to get it all in...growing organic with as much utilization of space. I do have a 9x10x8 greenhouse where I have tables that double as planters in late summer for kale, rutabaga, kohlrabi, spinach and in spring used for starting seeds. I keep a garden journal where I document what works and doesn’t work, what varieties work and what don’t. All my seeds are heirloom so companion planting became key for not only space saving but for big control as well. I’d rather loose a few radishes growing amongst the cucumbers then let a beetle just have its way with my cucumbers! Oh and we do have both beds fenced in to stop the deer and rabbits, the fence helps also by allowing things to climb on them allowing even more space to plant. Between our gardens, ability to forage,  chicken, and a few sheep I think were quite well off to sustain if either the grid goes down or if “green rebels” like us aren’t allowed in the mainstream world anymore because we aren’t vaccinated.
 
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If I were going to plant a garden based on "The Most Food for the Time & Space", I would plant these three plants:

Zucchini because it is abundant.  The plant can be placed on a trellis to grow vertically to save space.

Potatoes because it is an effective calorie-producing vegetable.  The plant produces a lot of pounds of food for a relatively small space.

Beans because they are high in protein.  They can be dried to store for the winter.  they can be grown vertically to save space.

Any space left over after planting can be used for favorite foods or variety.
 
 
Heather Scott
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Anne Miller wrote:If I were going to plant a garden based on "The Most Food for the Time & Space", I would plant these three plants:



Potatoes because it is an effective calorie-producing vegetable.  The plant produces a lot of pounds of food for a relatively small space.



I don’t know about potato leaves.... but sweet potato leaves are edible and tastes like a cross between spinach and Swiss chard. I think the ability to utilize most if not all of the plant is a huge bonus

Ps I’m sorry I don’t know quite how to quote them write a message below outside of the quote box!

 
Skandi Rogers
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Heather Scott wrote:


I don’t know about potato leaves.... but sweet potato leaves are edible and tastes like a cross between spinach and Swiss chard. I think the ability to utilize most if not all of the plant is a huge bonus



potato leaves are mildly poisonous so should not be used-
 
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We  have lots of space here in southern Wisconsin, but I can offer a few suggestions.  Peas grow on a trellis and the vine tips are delicious.  We have ground peas (hopniss), which are very high protein tubers,  on a fence, and the flowering vines are beautiful.  Hosta shoots are delicious, and harvesting them seems only to invigorate the plants.  Sweet potato vines are great eating, but don't eat potato leaves!
 
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Tomatoes, peppers & white potatoes, Belladonna, vines are all poisonous Night shade family, should not be eaten.
Peas, beans & sweet potato vine are eaten all over the world.
I have grown annuals food garden for 47 years & now know it was a big mistake!
I now know that perennial gardens are the way to go, if you do not use a perennial garden, it just sits there & multiples.
I still love my annuals, but they are not as sustainable as a perennial garden, this includes fruit, berry, nut trees & shrubs.
There are tons of leaf, stem & root crops to eat also, some are invasive, like suncokes & bamboo, but all can be controlled.
 
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Kevin Wilson wrote:
whereas beans often get rained on while they are drying in Sept and go moldy.  



In another thread there is a discussion on "shedders" vs "soakers". Short version is that some bean varieties have pods that shed water during the drying-down stage, while others soak up water like a sponge. If rainy autumns are the norm, it may be worth testing different varieties to find some that are good shedders.
 
Anne Miller
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To stay on the topic of "The Most Food for the Time & Space" the referenced link may surprise you.

If a person is on a desert island and there are only tomato leaves to eat, any suggestions?

Some things do not appeal to me to eat.  Lots of things like weeds, thistle, tomato leaves, etc.

https://permies.com/t/58961/culinary-tomato-foliage

I wouldn't recommend eating anything I would not eat.
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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Making a list of what gives you the most food for the time and space is tricky. I could list the species I think would do best, but in order to really get the best returns it would require matching the exact varieties to the location and growing methods.

That said, what works best for me are potatoes, winter or dual-purpose squash, tomatoes, and dry beans.

For potatoes, the best returns I got last year were from the varieties "Elfe" and "Red Pontiac". There were also high yields from a fingerling variety that I think was "Russian Banana", but they were so bitter they burned my mouth, and I had to throw them out. It's worth noting that Red Pontiac started sprouting in storage a full 6 weeks before Elfe did.

For many years, my go-to winter squashes were "Zucchetta Rampicante" (a dual-purpose variety), "Red Kuri", and "Tennessee Sweet Potato". I'm currently working to preserve some other varieties that would cross with those, so they're being set aside for a while. "Bigger Better Butternut" so far looks like it does as well or slightly better than the Zucchetta Rampicante. I'm still reserving judgement on "Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead" and "Calabasas de las Aguas". I also grew a different species of squash that is unlike anything I've ever grown before, the "Great Lakes Shark Fin". That one is sweet as a melon, forms strings like a spaghetti squash, and has a shell that's as thin and hard as a coconut, but the meat fills the entire shell like a watermelon. According to what I've read about it, Shark Fin Squash can keep for years in the shell. So far I still have a little over half of them in the basement, and they are as solid as the day they were picked. In terms of storage crops, Shark Fin is a definite winner!

I always grow a different mix of tomato varieties every year, but the ones that always make it to the list are "Punta Banda", "Climbing Triple-Crop", and one that originated in a compost heap that I'm tentatively calling "Mini-Paste". The Mini-Paste and Punta Banda both detach completely from the stem, with no core remaining. That makes it easy to just dump a bunch in the sauce squeezer. Mini-Paste is meatier than Punta Banda, but they both have good flavors and make excellent sauces and soups. Climbing Triple Crop has a core, but the fruits are huge, making it a good one for sandwiches, or it can be chopped up and added to the sauce. (I should mention, I'm one of those rare people who can't stand the taste of raw tomatoes. I have family members who like them raw, but I prefer to eat them cooked. Thus, most of my focus is on tomatoes that make good sauces.)

For dry beans, there's no question. Beefy Resilient Beans live up to every part of their name! They produce heavily, even in years when other beans in my garden got wiped out by a fungus. And the taste is outstanding! I'm actually working on ways to make it machine-harvestable so I can grow it on a much larger scale. As an added bonus, it doesn't cause gas the way most legumes do!

I do grow other varieties of beans, but I have yet to find one I enjoy eating as much as the Beefy Resilient. If pole beans were my only option though, I would grow "Good Mother Stallard". Several years ago I did some tests, and that one produced 4x the amount of seed per row-foot as the second best producer. At some point I'll try crossing it with Beefy to try and get the best of both worlds, but if my survival depended on a pole bean, that would be it.
(Second-best producer in the test was "Scarlet Runner". Keep in mind that there were only 12 varieties in that test, so results should be taken with a grain of salt.)


If you're looking to save money, rather than just producing calories, I would start in the spice cabinet. Herbs, especially perennial or self-sowing herbs, can produce an entire year's worth in a very small space. Garlic is always on my list, although I haven't settled on any specific varieties. I have a patch of Greek Oregano that pretty much takes care of itself. If you use saffron at all I encourage you to get a few bulbs. Look at what you use most, then check if you can grow it.

 
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There are probably 3 categories here, or possibly 4: carb crops, protein crops, and fresh juicy/vitamin vegetables. (you could add storage/condiment vegetables for the likes of sauce tomatoes, peppers, etc.) You wouldn't want to go without any of them in your diet--even if you end up buying one or two categories-- and it's really only useful to compare like with like. Among carb crops, both corn and potatoes are good choices for big yield and easy storage. Where I am, the corn probably wins out because it is so difficult to protect potatoes from gophers.  Pole beans are a strong contender in their season as a fresh veg and definitely a great choice as a dried protein crop. So you could measure those two types by the unit of protein or calories they deliver. However, in the real world, what is going to determine how long your stash lasts is the number of meals/servings it will make.

Especially in comparing crops eaten as fresh vegetables, I think the most useful comparison is number of meals per sq ft per week.

For fresh veggies in summer and fall, chard wins hands down. It can be cut again and again, regrows quickly, is more heat-resistant than other leafy greens, and its deep taproot makes it both drought-tolerant and mineral-rich. The "Perpetual Spinach" type is milder and more tender than regular chard, in addition to being perennial in zones 6 or 7 to 10.  perpetual spinach Besides the usual soups, side dishes, etc., I put it into pasta a lot, and enjoy it as a salad--cooked and served cool with olive oil and garlic.

For winter and early spring, turnip greens are probably the biggest producers. Kale survives more cold, but it just survives--it doesn't actually produce new growth until the weather warms up in spring, when it bolts pretty quickly. Turnips, on the other hand, draw calories for growth from their big root rather than from just sunshine, so they can start pumping out leaves much, much sooner. They are also much less fussy than other brassicas to grow--I just throw some seed around in fall, or let some plants go to seed, and harvest vast amounts of greens and sweet young flowering shoots like broccolini. I'm at about 2000 ft in Northern California, and we eat them every day for about 3 months. (again, with olive oil, garlic and lemon.) Another strong choice is chicory, which is also a tap-rooted green that is still pretty close to its wild origins. In fact, forage chicory and a few of the older heirloom chicories (not the highly-refined radicchios) are perennial as well. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p472/Chicory_%22Trieste_Sweet%22_.html#/
 
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Anne Miller wrote:

Potatoes because it is an effective calorie-producing vegetable.  The plant produces a lot of pounds of food for a relatively small space.

Beans because they are high in protein.  They can be dried to store for the winter.  they can be grown vertically to save space.

 



If you like beans, as Anne said, they are good things to grow.  They produce well, and store easier than pretty much anything else.

It's very hard to beat potatoes for space to calorie ratio, and we eat them at most of our meals.  Very little investment or work to grow hundreds of pounds of food.

Fruit trees grow a lot of food for a pretty small footprint, especially with heavy pruning.

I put in Hardy Kiwi this year in my new food forest.  Is it really produces 100 lbs of food per plant, that's pretty great.  I haven't looked into storage of them yet.

 
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Michelle Heath wrote:  I grow rhubarb, asparagus and alpine strawberries from seed, which can take a bit longer to harvest but for far less than the cost of buying roots/crowns/established plants.  Horseradish and comfrey are increased by root cuttings and although we don't use comfrey internally, it's value in the garden is tremendous.  Herbs are increased through division and cuttings.  Blooms from dandelion and wild violets made some wonderful jelly this spring.  



That's great - I have one crop of comfrey that I grew from seed at the base of a pear tree. The other 4 spots of seeds didn't germinate, but this crop is going strong. You've inspired me to see if I can propagate them from cuttings. Thanks!

Best of luck in your project. I grow asparagus, too. Unlike Claire, I love it; my favorite way to eat it is standing in the garden, right after I've snapped off a stalk. I can barely stand grocery store asparagus after eating it this way!
 
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Kevin Wilson wrote:Our deer-resistant space out back is about 40’ x 40’, so we are very limited on space too. We do grow potatoes, onion family and squash out front but it’s always a challenge to get the squash past the small plant stage when the deer will eat them.

We grow soup peas for dry protein instead of beans, because they dry down reliably for us by early August, whereas beans often get rained on while they are drying in Sept and go moldy. Most people plant their peas quite far apart, so of course they don’t get much food per sq ft from them. Planted close together in bands or wide rows (1.5-2” apart in all directions) you get a lot more peas, and you don’t have to build as much length of trellis either.



I love this in so many ways. First, yeah, so much of what we do and the decisions we make are a response to our immediate environment - weather, space, resources.

Second, I agree totally on the pea thing. We're growing them really close together on a bamboo and twine trellis, and so far, it's working out great.
 
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Ralph Sluder wrote:
Then I would say malibar spinach and pole beans if trellised take little space and give huge amounts of food.  
   I have plenty of garden space but these I have mentioned get only a small garden plot to provide meals for the entire year for our family and then some.



Ralph, would malabar spinach work in a hanging basket? Asking for a friend.
 
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Heather Scott wrote:Relatively new to gardening..... father always gardened but I never had much mind to learning how and what he did. Until my Husband and I purchased 10.5 acres of mountain woods in TN. All I knew was that I had this burning desire to provide food for us.... two at the time and now three as were pregnant and very excited to sow into our little one our new way of living. We refuse to mass clear land.. aka bulldoze it all down, so we cut a clearing with chainsaws and built two raised beds... there is such rich soil here but due to the mass webbing of root systems it’s not easy to break through the top layers of dirt. I began to study.... built our raised bed out of rotting logs and was blessed with full dirt that came from a clean site (half of the soil in this area is a dense yellowish clay (which is good for building our cob home but not for plant growth) I knew I needed to grow a variety of foods to sustain us if the world shut down and I couldn’t go to the local market because I am not vaccinated, I learned about companion planting. I have one 10x30 raised bed and one 10x 20 raised bed and grow shelling peas, bush beans, dry beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, radishes, onions, lettuce, mellons, broccoli, cauliflower sweet potatoes (white and Orange) carrots, eggplant, zucchini, winter squash. By learning companion planting and integrating some vertical gardening I’ve been able to get it all in...growing organic with as much utilization of space. I do have a 9x10x8 greenhouse where I have tables that double as planters in late summer for kale, rutabaga, kohlrabi, spinach and in spring used for starting seeds. I keep a garden journal where I document what works and doesn’t work, what varieties work and what don’t. All my seeds are heirloom so companion planting became key for not only space saving but for big control as well. I’d rather loose a few radishes growing amongst the cucumbers then let a beetle just have its way with my cucumbers! Oh and we do have both beds fenced in to stop the deer and rabbits, the fence helps also by allowing things to climb on them allowing even more space to plant. Between our gardens, ability to forage,  chicken, and a few sheep I think were quite well off to sustain if either the grid goes down or if “green rebels” like us aren’t allowed in the mainstream world anymore because we aren’t vaccinated.



I just want to say what a great project! It sounds like you came a really long way in a short time from never gardening to getting into some pretty deep gardening activities. More power to ya.
 
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Anne Miller wrote:If I were going to plant a garden based on "The Most Food for the Time & Space", I would plant these three plants:

Zucchini because it is abundant.  The plant can be placed on a trellis to grow vertically to save space.

Potatoes because it is an effective calorie-producing vegetable.  The plant produces a lot of pounds of food for a relatively small space.

Beans because they are high in protein.  They can be dried to store for the winter.  they can be grown vertically to save space.

 



Great list, Anne!
 
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Heather Scott wrote:

Ps I’m sorry I don’t know quite how to quote them write a message below outside of the quote box!



Hi, Heather! To quote, you select "Quote" in the upper right, then type your message below the end-quote tag, which is a bracket with "/quote" inside of it.
 
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:Making a list of what gives you the most food for the time and space is tricky. I could list the species I think would do best, but in order to really get the best returns it would require matching the exact varieties to the location and growing methods.

That said, what works best for me are potatoes, winter or dual-purpose squash, tomatoes, and dry beans.

For potatoes, the best returns I got last year were from the varieties "Elfe" and "Red Pontiac". There were also high yields from a fingerling variety that I think was "Russian Banana", but they were so bitter they burned my mouth, and I had to throw them out. It's worth noting that Red Pontiac started sprouting in storage a full 6 weeks before Elfe did.

For many years, my go-to winter squashes were "Zucchetta Rampicante" (a dual-purpose variety), "Red Kuri", and "Tennessee Sweet Potato". I'm currently working to preserve some other varieties that would cross with those, so they're being set aside for a while. "Bigger Better Butternut" so far looks like it does as well or slightly better than the Zucchetta Rampicante. I'm still reserving judgement on "Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead" and "Calabasas de las Aguas". I also grew a different species of squash that is unlike anything I've ever grown before, the "Great Lakes Shark Fin". That one is sweet as a melon, forms strings like a spaghetti squash, and has a shell that's as thin and hard as a coconut, but the meat fills the entire shell like a watermelon. According to what I've read about it, Shark Fin Squash can keep for years in the shell. So far I still have a little over half of them in the basement, and they are as solid as the day they were picked. In terms of storage crops, Shark Fin is a definite winner!

I always grow a different mix of tomato varieties every year, but the ones that always make it to the list are "Punta Banda", "Climbing Triple-Crop", and one that originated in a compost heap that I'm tentatively calling "Mini-Paste". The Mini-Paste and Punta Banda both detach completely from the stem, with no core remaining. That makes it easy to just dump a bunch in the sauce squeezer. Mini-Paste is meatier than Punta Banda, but they both have good flavors and make excellent sauces and soups. Climbing Triple Crop has a core, but the fruits are huge, making it a good one for sandwiches, or it can be chopped up and added to the sauce. (I should mention, I'm one of those rare people who can't stand the taste of raw tomatoes. I have family members who like them raw, but I prefer to eat them cooked. Thus, most of my focus is on tomatoes that make good sauces.)

For dry beans, there's no question. Beefy Resilient Beans live up to every part of their name! They produce heavily, even in years when other beans in my garden got wiped out by a fungus. And the taste is outstanding! I'm actually working on ways to make it machine-harvestable so I can grow it on a much larger scale. As an added bonus, it doesn't cause gas the way most legumes do!

I do grow other varieties of beans, but I have yet to find one I enjoy eating as much as the Beefy Resilient. If pole beans were my only option though, I would grow "Good Mother Stallard". Several years ago I did some tests, and that one produced 4x the amount of seed per row-foot as the second best producer. At some point I'll try crossing it with Beefy to try and get the best of both worlds, but if my survival depended on a pole bean, that would be it.
(Second-best producer in the test was "Scarlet Runner". Keep in mind that there were only 12 varieties in that test, so results should be taken with a grain of salt.)


If you're looking to save money, rather than just producing calories, I would start in the spice cabinet. Herbs, especially perennial or self-sowing herbs, can produce an entire year's worth in a very small space. Garlic is always on my list, although I haven't settled on any specific varieties. I have a patch of Greek Oregano that pretty much takes care of itself. If you use saffron at all I encourage you to get a few bulbs. Look at what you use most, then check if you can grow it.



Those are some great varieties, Ellendra. I'm trying red kuri this year, growing it from seed I saved from a farmer's market squash.

It would really help readers here to know where you're growing - I always look to see which region or gardening zone posters are in so I can translate what you're saying for my own zone. Thanks!
 
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Jamie Chevalier wrote:

For fresh veggies in summer and fall, chard wins hands down. It can be cut again and again, regrows quickly, is more heat-resistant than other leafy greens, and its deep taproot makes it both drought-tolerant and mineral-rich. The "Perpetual Spinach" type is milder and more tender than regular chard, in addition to being perennial in zones 6 or 7 to 10.  perpetual spinach Besides the usual soups, side dishes, etc., I put it into pasta a lot, and enjoy it as a salad--cooked and served cool with olive oil and garlic.

https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p472/Chicory_%22Trieste_Sweet%22_.html#/



Thank you, Jamie! I just bookmarked these links for future gardening.
 
Trace Oswald
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Lisa Brunette wrote:

That's great - I have one crop of comfrey that I grew from seed at the base of a pear tree. The other 4 spots of seeds didn't germinate, but this crop is going strong. You've inspired me to see if I can propagate them from cuttings. Thanks!



It couldn't be easier.  Dig up some root, break off a piece an inch or two long and stick it in the ground.  Then wait.  I have literally hundreds now that I started that way.
 
Michelle Heath
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Have to agree with Trace about how easy comfrey is to propagate.  I started my first cuttings in pots because I was staying with my ill grandmother at the time.  After she passed I brought the pots back home where they sat untouched until the following spring.  When I finally got around to planting them they had already put roots into the ground.  When I lifted those pots the roots broke and I ended up with a massive comfrey patch from those broken roots.  

Horseradish is just as easy. I moved a clump to make room for a new garden bed and broke off a few roots.  I put them in a plastic bag and meant to stick them in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator.  Yesterday I noticed the bag still setting where I put it when I brought it in the house and expected the worst.  Instead I found new shoots emerging.  
 
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:
For many years, my go-to winter squashes were "Zucchetta Rampicante" (a dual-purpose variety), "Red Kuri", and "Tennessee Sweet Potato". I'm currently working to preserve some other varieties that would cross with those, so they're being set aside for a while. "Bigger Better Butternut" so far looks like it does as well or slightly better than the Zucchetta Rampicante. I'm still reserving judgement on "Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead" and "Calabasas de las Aguas". I also grew a different species of squash that is unlike anything I've ever grown before, the "Great Lakes Shark Fin". That one is sweet as a melon, forms strings like a spaghetti squash, and has a shell that's as thin and hard as a coconut, but the meat fills the entire shell like a watermelon. According to what I've read about it, Shark Fin Squash can keep for years in the shell. So far I still have a little over half of them in the basement, and they are as solid as the day they were picked. In terms of storage crops, Shark Fin is a definite winner!


Thanks for this ineresting list, and I would definitely agree on the herbs/spices.
Regarding the Shark Fin squash, I had never heard of it and looked it up. The German name is familiar to me as it is often used as rootstock for grafting cucumbers or melons. But I know of no-one who grows the squash itself.
I have looked up the properties and the long storage life seems to be the biggest advantage:
"The fruit is low in beta-carotene, as can be seen from its white flesh, and is relatively low in vitamins and minerals, and moderately high in carbohydrates."

As others have said, food growing choices depend greatly on your growing conditions, your preferences and storage life.
In my climate, potatoes are the winner (definitely not corn or sweet potatoes), red kuri and similar, and tomatoes for eating fresh and canning.
Beans do not yield a lot but are a must for me as I don't buy a lot of meat. Homemade hummus is so tasty!
 
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Curious to know how others of you have edited your gardening plans for maximum yield as well as practice and personal taste.


He! Where I am gardening there's no plan.
We severily miss two things: water and time.

So far, we have been working on improving land shape for increased rainfall intake, and are trying to introduce new self seeding crops (heirloom varieties are hard to find for us), with little regard to taste or nutrition, just to see if they survive and stay. Once we have a functional garden, we will work on increasing palatability. Hopefully.
About time, we've decided to drop any agricultural effort since it takes a time we don't have. It all goes now to planting new things and letting Nature work.
 
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Trace Oswald wrote:

Lisa Brunette wrote:

That's great - I have one crop of comfrey that I grew from seed at the base of a pear tree. The other 4 spots of seeds didn't germinate, but this crop is going strong. You've inspired me to see if I can propagate them from cuttings. Thanks!



It couldn't be easier.  Dig up some root, break off a piece an inch or two long and stick it in the ground.  Then wait.  I have literally hundreds now that I started that way.



YAY!!!
 
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Michelle Heath wrote:

Horseradish is just as easy. I moved a clump to make room for a new garden bed and broke off a few roots.  I put them in a plastic bag and meant to stick them in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator.  Yesterday I noticed the bag still setting where I put it when I brought it in the house and expected the worst.  Instead I found new shoots emerging.  



No kidding! I put 4 roots in (not great) ground three years ago, haven't touched them once, and we have a massive crop. Since they are companions to potatoes, I'm trying that, and the potatoes are thriving next to the horseradish.
 
Ralph Sluder
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Lisa Brunette wrote:

Ralph Sluder wrote:
Then I would say malibar spinach and pole beans if trellised take little space and give huge amounts of food.  
   I have plenty of garden space but these I have mentioned get only a small garden plot to provide meals for the entire year for our family and then some.



Ralph, would malabar spinach work in a hanging basket? Asking for a friend.



 Sorry for late response.  I think they would work if the planter has plenty off room for roots or is watered well. Malibar spinach puts on long and heavy vines because they have succulent leaves.  I would recommend and sturdy planter.
 
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I am on Vancouver Island off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada.  My 35 x 50 garden has produced food for 40 years, although since the kids have gone on with their lives, I have more flowers and blueberry bushes.    I don't grow anything exotic, and many people say carrots are so cheap, why grow them?  All I can say is for the taste, just as with tomatoes.  My carrots, leek, kale, parsley, and beets stay in the ground most of the year, but I do like to get the carrots and beets out when temperatures drop below freezing.  Those beets I miss provide nice greens in the spring, along with the Swiss chard and kale.  I get LOTS of raspberries and rhubarb, enough delicious strawberries for myself and the freezer, and the blueberries, well, I love those fresh.  I freeze the black currants for winter smoothies, to add tartness to raspberries or blueberries, but I'll perhaps make jelly this year.  I stopped eating jams and jellies after the kids were grown, but started again, because I make it for gifts. (I've been cycling out last year's frozen berries for jam.)  Potatoes, beans, and squash are must-haves, and sprouting broccoli planted last fall was a delicious treat this spring.  I have switched from growing bush beans to pole beans for space.



My question for everyone is how to successfully grow what we in Canada call yams, or the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to those of you in the States.  I want to get away from potatoes (don't eat that many) but I LOVE sweet potatoes (yams.). I'm about 500' above sea level, so my climate is colder in winter, and much drier in summer.  I have so far not been successful, even in producing slips, having tried different ways I've read about here on Permies.  If anyone can help educate me on that, I would really appreciate it.  I do NOT have a greenhouse.  I love to tend my garden, but in summer, I want to be on the water in my kayak as much as possible. My life is greatly enhanced by growing my own food, not to mention the food security issues which Covid-19 has highlighted, and while I purchase organic veggies which come mostly from California, there are pretty poor substitutes for what I can grow.  
 
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My understanding is that yams require a lot of heat, both day and night. Even here in northern California, I don't know anyone who can grow them outdoors without nighttime protection, except in the Central Valley, where moister air makes the nights warmer. (I have a 40 to 50-degree swing between summer days and summer nights, from 90-100 to 40-50.) I do know people who have grown them successfully in a greenhouse here.

I suspect that in your maritime climate, you might be able to do it if you could find a way of raising the temperature. say in a greenhouse or cold frame. Maybe the solution would be a hot bed, where you dig a pit and fill it with fresh manure, or other hot-composting materials. Put soil on top of that to grow in and a frame or tent over the top to hold the heat. I used to build these for winter greens in Southeast Alaska, with an old window and wood frame over a pit filled with seaweed and chicken bedding. I grew fresh spinach and Asian greens when it was 10 degrees outside.
 
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Lisa Brunette wrote:


It would really help readers here to know where you're growing - I always look to see which region or gardening zone posters are in so I can translate what you're saying for my own zone. Thanks!



Fair point. I've added my location to my profile.

I'm trying red kuri this year, growing it from seed I saved from a farmer's market squash.



Awesome! Just a heads-up though, if the farmer grows other C. maximas, the seeds might end up being hybrids. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the results unpredictable.

There's a market grower whose farm I drive past frequently. He has an entire acre planted with squash every year. One row per variety, with the rows right next to each other. It looks amazing when they all start to ripen, but definitely not something to do if you want to keep the seeds pure.
 
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gene gapsis wrote:

My question for everyone is how to successfully grow what we in Canada call yams, or the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to those of you in the States.  I want to get away from potatoes (don't eat that many) but I LOVE sweet potatoes (yams.). I'm about 500' above sea level, so my climate is colder in winter, and much drier in summer.  I have so far not been successful, even in producing slips, having tried different ways I've read about here on Permies.  If anyone can help educate me on that, I would really appreciate it.  I do NOT have a greenhouse.  I love to tend my garden, but in summer, I want to be on the water in my kayak as much as possible. My life is greatly enhanced by growing my own food, not to mention the food security issues which Covid-19 has highlighted, and while I purchase organic veggies which come mostly from California, there are pretty poor substitutes for what I can grow.  



Gene, I've had trouble with sweet potatoes as well - and I'm in the Midwest. I think it was something in the soil leftover after we sheet-mulched over the grass. This year I'm going to try growing them atop a hugelkultur we created with lilac limbs. I'll let you know how that goes.
 
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Jamie Chevalier wrote:My understanding is that yams require a lot of heat, both day and night. Even here in northern California, I don't know anyone who can grow them outdoors without nighttime protection, except in the Central Valley, where moister air makes the nights warmer. (I have a 40 to 50-degree swing between summer days and summer nights, from 90-100 to 40-50.) I do know people who have grown them successfully in a greenhouse here.

I suspect that in your maritime climate, you might be able to do it if you could find a way of raising the temperature. say in a greenhouse or cold frame. Maybe the solution would be a hot bed, where you dig a pit and fill it with fresh manure, or other hot-composting materials. Put soil on top of that to grow in and a frame or tent over the top to hold the heat. I used to build these for winter greens in Southeast Alaska, with an old window and wood frame over a pit filled with seaweed and chicken bedding. I grew fresh spinach and Asian greens when it was 10 degrees outside.



Thank you so much for this.  Unfortunately, I am far enough from the seashore to not have the maritime climate of those that live closer.  I tent my tomatoes, and will try the same with yams.  Any suggestions on slips, or do you plant directly.  I tried one suggestion I found here last year of just piling leaves over top of the potatoes, which did sprout, but far too slowly to produce anything before frost.

 
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