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Best calorie crops for hot dry climate  RSS feed

 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I'm still trying to work out how to grow a nearly-complete diet at home, and an important part of that is calorie crops, also known as staple crops, which make up the bulk of calories in the diet especially if one is vegan.  I'm not vegan but I'm interested in a mostly-plants diet.  I garden where it can get quite hot and dry in the Summer and we can have years of drought here when it is dry most of the time.  What are some good calorie crops for this situation, especially perennial crops?

 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Tyler,  here are a few sites that have lots of info for you.

perennial solutions

new food crops

food crops for the desert
 
Anne Miller
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It is a given fact that people have to have calories for energy.  So if I were planting solely for calories I would plant: potatoes, dry bean varieties, and kale. We have grown all these in Central Texas with success.  Probably summer and winter squash are also needed for variety and the winter squash because they store well.

But I will have to say that all calories are not created equal. I would also plant nutrient dense plants because people need vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  The dry bean and potatoes would provide fiber so to plant for the vitamins and minerals I would plant: kale, garlic, mustard, turnips, collard greens, swiss chard and spinach.  All these are doable for Central Texas but for the Hill Country or South Texas, they would need to be planted as soon as the last frost and while there is a rainy season and harvested before the drought.  For the hot dry climate maybe twice the plants are needed.  I don't think we have had any rain since May, we have had several 105 degree days, and we still have tomatoes, bell peppers and brussel sprouts.  They are not producing much but holding out for cooler weather.
 
Jay Grace
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Okra is a good one to grow that actually grows during the heat.
The same with various types of peppers.


Okra is 33 calories per cup

Kale is 33 calories per cup

Prickly pear cactus fruit are 42 calories per fruit

Potatoes are 116 calories per cup

Jerusalem artichokes are 106 calories per cup.   (If you're able to eat them)
 
chip sanft
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Some thoughts (though nothing on perennials):
* Potatoes, as already mentioned. Originally from arid highlands, there should be some varieties that retain those traits.
* Millet was grown extensively in places like prehistoric north China because it could handle heat and harsh conditions, and it still is used for that reason today. Not a common food crop in the US but people still eat it elsewhere.
* Sorghum was and is grown in hot and arid places because it requires less water than maize etc., though more than millet (at least that's how it features in decrue agriculture).
 
David Good
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Great suggestions here already. I'd also toss out grain corn, particularly dent corn, as a good option. Plant at wider spacing to conserve soil moisture and maintain a "dust mulch."

Tree crops such as chestnut are another good thing to consider. And I second prickly pear. If you can get past the mucilaginous pads, they're so easy. I have collected varieties for pads and fruit.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Thank you for the suggestions.  I'm not convinced there are enough calories in some of these things such as okra, cactus pads, etc for them to qualify as calorie crops, though they may be helpful for nutrition.  Cactus pads, especially, are touted as a low calorie vegetable, with just 16 calories in 100 grams of pad.

I've never seen Chestnut in a listing of trees for arid lands. Our soil here is probably too alkaline, anyway, as they are mentioned as liking acidic soil.

It's a real challenge to find crops which will grow under hot dry conditions.  Some things which are good calorie crops, such as potatoes, don't seem to like it to be too hot and dry.  Some potential crops such as Mesquite, are not reliable producers - we have a mesquite tree and I don't know that it has ever made more than one or two pods.

So far everything I've tried needs irrigation except Sotol, which is not a practical crop as it takes a lot of space and requires a few years to reach edible size.  Eating it kills the plant. Buffalo gourd might be a possibility but also takes a lot of space to grow enough plants to produce sufficient seeds.
 
Anne Miller
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Maybe you need to design your garden for where you live.  "While there are a number of drought tolerant vegetables varieties available, without some planning, extreme drought and heat will kill even the hardiest. Planting at the correct time is crucial. Sow the seeds earlier in the spring to take advantage of the warm weather and jump start the growing season, or plant later in the fall to minimize the use of irrigation and use the seasonal rains to your advantage."  This article also brings up mulch, raised beds, shade cloth and companion planting as ways to help.  "Drought resistant vegetables are often those with short days to maturity. Other options include the miniature varieties, bell peppers and eggplant for example. They need less water for fruit development than their larger cousins."

Drought Resistant Vegetables

Mother Eath Newshas a chart:

Heat Tolerant Annual Crop Varieties

"Short-season crops have exceptional value in an era of water shortages and climate uncertainty because, after it’s transplanted in a field, a crop that matures in 60 days rather than 90 may require 20 to 25 percent less irrigation than its late-blooming counterpart, thus conserving water and energy."

Coping with Heat

I know this is not an answer to your question but maybe there is a solution.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Yes, it looks like the best strategy to try to avoid growing during the hottest time of year, though of course this doesn't help in the case of perennials.  Personally I have not found raised beds to be helpful under hot dry conditions, they tend to dry out.  Miniature calorie crops is an interesting idea, if one can get a full-size harvest.  One year I grew Tohono O'odham 60 day corn.  It only grew 3 feet tall but each plant had at least one (small) ear of corn.   
 
Casie Becker
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I'm gonna chime in about the reliability of Mesquite trees. It's gotta be something that varies for each tree. The tree in our front yard when I was a child had a heavy crop of beans each year.

I know some varieties are propagated from cuttings (usually low thorn varieties for the landscape) so maybe you can find and propagate your own heavy bearers if you can find a reliable tree in your area. The ideal situation would be to selectively breed heavy bearers over time. Combining the two techniques might be a way to help jump start such a breeding project by moving several heavy bearing individuals into close proximity.
 
r ranson
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Keeping in mind, I don't know much about 'hot dry climates' from personal experience.  We have a dry summer for about 6 months, but it seldom gets much above 35 degrees C during the day and we usually have a dew at night.  In these conditions, amaranth and some squash grow well.  There are a few grasses, closely related to millet that leap out of the ground and produce their grain with zero rain or irrigation. 

Some general ideas (which may or may not apply to your area, these are just from books I've read and random thoughts I had)

If there is a rainy or a damp season, are their crops that can do most of their growing then?  Chickpeas, soup peas, and fava beans are the ones I use here as they like the cool dank winter.  There are many grains that overwinter, even in places with real winters. 

Are their wild versions of domestic crops in your area?  For example, we have amaranth and quinoa wild relatives already growing on our farm.  So, I tried planting some of these and they make a lovely staple crop.

How about cowpeas?  These are grown in Africa and are said to be extremely drought tolerant.  I have a devil of a time with these because we aren't hot enough and our day length is too long for them.  But I think if you live south of the 47th, they should grow well. 

Sorghum has already been mentioned.  This is suppose to grow well in drought, but also likes semi-flooded and possibly saline areas.  Again, it's one I haven't managed because of lack of heat and too much day length.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I've had good success with cowpeas/black-eyed peas in the past.  I haven't grown them in the current vegetable garden because of space constraints.  There are a few growing in the food forest and seem to be doing well with irrigation once a week, in part shade.



 
Casie Becker
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One thing I haven't tried, but sounds like it would be doable here is sesame. It is a crop that they experiment with growing commercially in some parts of this state (though it hasn't really taken off) I think anything that's high in fat would also be high calorie. Problem is, I keep looking at the bag of organic seeds; it's not something we ever seem to use. I'm still looking at the same bag a year later.

Even if we don't use it, I may just throw it out as a cover crop next year. It looks like it might be an attractive flower and create some good biomass.
 
David Good
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I've had good success with cowpeas/black-eyed peas in the past.  I haven't grown them in the current vegetable garden because of space constraints.  There are a few growing in the food forest and seem to be doing well with irrigation once a week, in part shade.



Black-eyed peas can really take a lot of stress and still bring in a yield.
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