Planning for Crop Storage Success
Planning ahead will allow survivors to plant enough storage crops to get them through the lean months each year. Start by researching the best crops for your area from this list. Choose the right seed and make sure you devote a chunk of land to the garden and grain crops that will sustain you for long periods of time.
Choose heritage or open pollinated seed for your annual and biennial crops. This will allow you to save seed that will grow true to type year after year, if you are careful to save enough seed to plant each year.
Provide the best storage conditions for each crop to prevent decay and mold. Grow more than you think you need in case the winter lasts longer than usual, or you want to barter food for other goods.
The Best Storage Crops
Try to grow at least 2 or three plants from each of these crops to supply a variety of your food requirements. Different crops provide different nutritional needs, such as calories, protein, carbs, or vitamins and minerals that will help you survive.
Grains and Seeds
Grains will store for years under the right conditions. Dried beans and field peas or soybeans provide a generous supply of nonperishable protein, so be sure to include them in your garden. It’s no wonder our ancestors decided to settle down and raise these crops. They must be dried for several weeks before storing to prevent mold and toxins from growing in them. Store in airtight containers in a cool to cold, dry area. The stalks make great bedding and fodder for hungry livestock over the winter.
- Corn – Bloody Butcher, Hopi Blue, Country Gentleman, Boone County White.
- Wheat – Preston, Hard Red Fife, Stanley.
- Oats – Welcome Oats, California Red Oats.
- Rye – Heirloom Winter Rye or Heirloom Cereal Rye.
- Rice – Long Grain Brown, Sweet Brown, Brown Basmati.
- Amaranth – Any variety can be used for grain and greens.Grain needs to be cooked.
- Dried Beans – Dwarf Horticultural, Kidney, Lima, Pinto, Black Turtle.
- Sunflower Seeds – Black Oil, Grey Striped.
Pumpkins and Squash
Long keeping varieties of squash will last until early spring in cold storage, providing the survivor with plenty of beta carotene. Pumpkins won’t last quite as long and need a higher level of humidity. You can still keep some of the old fashioned pie pumpkins well into the new year. Most squash need a curing period after picking to harden the skin. Acorn squash are the exception, and like to go into a cold, humid area soon after harvest.
Seeds from pumpkins and squash can be keep for long periods to provide extra protein for the survivor.
- Squash – Blue Hubbard, Butternut, Delicata, Buttercup, Gold Nugget, Green Striped Cushaw.
- Pumpkins – Cinderella, Long Island Cheese, Jarrahdale, Rouge vif De‘Etempes, Small Sugar Pie Pumpkin.
Nuts provide calories and protein for survival. Store nuts in the coolest, driest place you can safely secure them. They last longest at freezer temperatures. In a survival situation, your best bet is to oven can them for shelf storage. Of course you can keep them in a cold storage room, basement, or attic over the winter. Try to use nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, and pecans by the time spring rolls around. Almonds and cashews will usually keep for a year in a cool, dry place.
Fruits provide valuable vitamins during the winter. Most fruit lasts longest when stored at a very cool temperature, just above freezing, but below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with a high level of humidity. Try not to store fruits in the same area as roots and other vegetables. The ethylene gas given off by the fruit may cause your veggies to deteriorate faster. Softer fruits, such as pears, last longer if they are picked before fully ripening, then stored in shallow layers with paper between them.
- Apples – Baldwin, Winesap, York Imperial, Jonagold, Jonathan, and Northern Spy.
- Quince – Look for old fashioned quince, not flowering quince.
- Pears – Red Bartlett, Bartlett, Anjou, and Bosc.
- Persimmons – American persimmon can be left to freeze on the tree and then eat as you harvest.
- Oranges – will keep in cold storage, if you can manage it in southern areas.
These filling veggies provide vitamins, carbs, and some protein. Root crops like a cold, humid storage area best. Most will do very well stored in crates or barrels with sawdust, clean straw, or sand to protect them. They can also be left in the garden and covered with straw and leaves to keep the ground from freezing solid. You can take a shovel and pail out to the garden in the dead of winter and dig up a feast. Use them before the soil begins to warm in the spring, unless you are saving some biennials for seed.
- Potatoes – Kennebec, Katahdin, Norgold Russet, Superior.
- Sweet Potatoes – Georgia Red, Goldrush, Centennial (they do not last as long as white potatoes).
- Garlic – cold, dry storage. The best types are the softneck garlic, especially the silver skin varieties.
- Onions – cold, dry storage. Yellow Globe, Ebenezer, Copra. Perennial onions can be harvested from the garden late in the year.
- Shallots – Red Sun.
- Leeks – Lancelot.
- Carrots – Chantenay, Danver’s Half Long, Autumn King.
- Parsnips – Hollow Crown.
- Beets – Long Season, Detroit Dark Red, Lutz Green Leaf.
- Salsify – Sandwich Island.
- Winter radish – China Rose, Round Black Spanish.
This family includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale. They keep best if the whole plant is pulled up, roots and all. Plant them in your root cellar in damp sand and they will go on living well into the winter, providing you with vitamin C and cancer fighting biochemicals. In milder climates you may be able to cover with straw and harvest through the winter, or plant late in the year to grow through the cool season. Kale withstands hard freezes in our area until late in December or even January.
- Brussels Sprouts – Long Island Improved, Jade Cross.
- Cabbage – Late Flat Dutch, Mammoth Red Rock.
- Kale – Lancinata, Dwarf Blue Curled Vates, Dwarf Siberian.
- Celery and celariac– Leave roots on and store like cabbage..
- Dried herbs, roots, flowers, fruits, and leaves – Dry and store plant materials that are medicinal, or high in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
What’s Keeping You?
Why wait for the apocalypse to start growing your own heirloom storage crops? Raising your own food in a garden and storing it for the winter will help you become more self sufficient now, plus you’re learning valuable lessons for survival in the future. Getting a head start will allow you to selectively breed fruits and vegetables that grow best in your area. You’ll also get a better idea of what plants grow and store well for you. You don’t want to wait to find out that the 103 pounds of potatoes you can coax through the growing season will only last you until the middle of January. Get over the hump of that big ol’ learning curve before your life depends on it!
A lot of what I’ve about crop storage I owe to the excellent guide, Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage by Mike and Nancy Bubel.
Check out Dave’s list of the Top Ten Survival Foods You Should Grow!