You can grow a lot of basic food crops like wheat and sugar yourself, even though not many people grow them in their own gardens.
You might be used to buying these foods from the shop, but they’re actually quite easy and productive to grow in your own self-sufficient garden!
How good would it be to not buy your wheat flour from the shop, but grow and grind your own instead!
5 Super-Productive Vegetables for Self Sufficient Gardens
All species of wheat are annual plants. That’s pretty much the only downside of wheat, you will need to replant it every year. There are several varieties you can choose to grow in a self sufficient garden, including durum wheat, bread wheat, and spelt.
How to Grow Wheat
Wheat grows best in medium to heavy soil. It doesn’t like acidic or alkaline soils, so you’ll need to make sure your soil is of neutral pH.
It grows readily from seed, as long as you keep the soil moist until it has germinated. Sow approximately 5g of seed per square meter, as deep as the seed is long (about 2-3cm).
Wheat prefers regular watering, they don’t particularly like drying out, although they can handle some drought once they’re well established. Plant the seeds in blocks so they can support each other when they’re tall and skinny.
How to Harvest Wheat
Harvest when the plants look to be ‘dying’, turning yellow to golden brown, with a little bit of green left in the stalks. The aim is to pick it when it is soft on the inside, but still crunchy on the outside.
You can use general-purpose scissors to cut it, a scythe, or any other cutting tool.
Once cut, make bundles and stand them upwards with the grain head up. Make sure you keep it dry, moisture will ruin your crop. A dry shed or under a house are good places, as long as humidity is low, or you can cover it with a good quality tarp.
You’ll need to leave it to dry for anywhere between 1-2 weeks, depending on the heat. If you’re in a hot, dry area, it will be more like 1 week, the drying process can actually go quite quick.
Test it for readiness by tasting it, it will be dry. Grain should also readily fall out when you shake it. To harvest, you smack the stalks down on a tarp or blanket (cotton or other material that the grain doesn’t stick to).
Once you’ve harvested, feed the stubble (the leftover stalks and leaves) to cattle or other livestock, or use it as a great mulch in the rest of your self-sufficient garden.
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This is one of my favorite perennial vegetables to grow in a self-sufficient garden, not just because it’s super easy to grow and propagates readily (free plants!) but also because it is incredibly versatile.
Cassava is easy to care for, and incredibly fast-growing, it grows 2 to 3m tall. It might go deciduous in winter. It has beautiful leaves, similar to Paw Paw foliage but bigger, that form a thick, lush canopy. Branches are softwood with lots of knobbly bits.
Cassava grows tubers under the ground, and the tubers can get up 1m long and weigh up to 6kg. The size of the tubers depends a lot on the fertility of your soil and the weather. The better the soil, the better the tubers.Amazon product
How to Grow Cassava
The one downside of Cassava is that it likes warmth. It is best suited to subtropical to tropical climates, although you might be able to grow it in cooler areas if you create groves and microclimates.
I can’t grow potatoes where I live, it is too hot and although I have grown a decent crop in winter, I much prefer perennial vegetables that I can plant and forget. Not really the annual-replanting type.
Cassava is a great substitute for potatoes. You can use it in similar ways to potatoes, bake them, boil them, fry them, they’re even great in stews and soups.
Another downside is the presence of cyanogenic glucosides, a toxin to us humans. Cooking makes sure that those toxins are removed, so NEVER eat Cassava without peeling, rinsing, and cooking them first.
You can make Cassava flour from dried roots and use it as a replacement for wheat flour.
You only need to buy 1 Cassava plant, they’re so easy to propagate it’s almost laughable. Simply cut off a piece of mature stem, 10cm to 30cm long (at least 3 nodes), or break it off.
That’s terrible advice, but that’s how I do it. I break off a piece, then shove it in the ground. I should, of course, tell you to use sterilized equipment, make a nice cut, then plant it gently and firm the soil around it. But you can just shove it, too…
Just make sure you know which way is up. In the nursery, when we propagated them, we marked them with an arrow with a permanent marker to remember which way is up. I always remove most of the leaves too.
Cassava will grow in most soils, from sand to heavy clay. It won’t enjoy water-logged soil, so make sure you improve drainage before planting a Cassava bush, or you can plant it on a mound instead.
It can be grown as an edible hedge too, just make sure it doesn’t dry out too much because it can drop all its foliage if it is stressed, which means your privacy is ruined.
It likes food but doesn’t need it. It likes water, but will still grow without it (although definitely better with it, and you’ll see fewer roots without water).
Mulch it deeply and you’ll have a low-care, highly productive perennial vegetable in your self-sufficient garden. Piling up soil and mulch around the stem can encourage tubers as well, so feel free to go hard!
Forage for Cassava by removing soil around the base, and feeling around for a good-sized tuber. You can harvest them when they’re a decent size, 6” and up.
You don’t need to dig up the whole plant, just harvest as you require, and leave the rest to grow another day.
Tubers do not store particularly well, but putting them in the fridge can help preserve them for up to 2-3 weeks. Leaves can be harvested too, and many animals love Cassava, including cattle and chickens.
3. Sugar Cane
About Sugar Cane
Our homestead is surrounded by sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) and I love it when it’s 3m tall or when it’s freshly harvested.
I don’t grow this in our self-sufficient garden, as it’s a little too easy to duck across the road and cut a few stems. The neighbor doesn’t mind!
It can look quite nice too, similar to bamboo, if you’re willing to trim the brown leaves every now and then.
Sugar Cane belongs to the grass family and you can treat it similarly to grass. It grows very quickly to 3m tall, sometimes even taller, and has long strap-like leaves.
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- Green Sugar Canes
- Yellowish Green Sugarcane
- These Sugarcane have roots and are ready to be planted
How to Grow Sugar Cane
You can grow sugarcane in any frost-free area. Again, establish a grove if you do get some frost, you might find it grows fine in colder areas with the protection of other plants.
The easiest way to get a sugarcane plant is to grab an offset or a fairly large stem cutting from an established plant. If there’s any near you, simply dig up a section and replant it at home.
They can grow as tall as 4m so make sure you think about where to plant it.
To get the best sugar, make sure you feed it (it is super hungry) and water it regularly. The more nutrients, the better the sugar content you’ll get out of it.
Water it regularly too, but make sure it doesn’t have wet roots (sitting in soggy ground) all the time.
If you’re a sugarcane farmer, you’ll know that it’s always either too dry or too wet… Mulch will help you even this out and don’t skimp on compost, manure, or other organic matter.
Harvesting Sugar Cane
To get sugar, juice it and dry the sap. You’ll need a very heavy-duty juicer for this, more like a compression press. If you don’t have that, just split the stalks, chop them in pieces, and boil it until it thickens into a thick syrup.
You’ll need a sugar cane machete to cut it as it’s rather tough!
In commercial sugar cane mills, stalks are washed and crushed, and then they extract the juice in hot water. They add things to remove impurities, then boil it to reduce and thicken the juice. It is then dried to produce sugar.
You can grow sugar cane for the juice alone. It is incredibly sweet, although kids quite enjoy it, and best with a good squeeze of lemon juice and even some water to dilute it.
You need a super heavy-duty crusher for sugar cane as the canes are very, very tough.
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This is one of the easiest self-sufficiency crops for sugar or sweetener.
4. Olive Oil
About Olive Trees
The best time to grow an Olive tree is now. They can take 6 years to start producing fruit, and as long as 50 years to fully get going. They’re ultra long-lived though, so planting one is beneficial to future generations too.
How to Grow Olive Trees
Olives are very hardy. They adore the sun, don’t need much water, and are quite frost-hardy.
They do grow best in deep soil with regular watering, but you’ll find it’s possible to grow them even on rocky, dry hills.
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Olives can be propagated from seed and cuttings. If you’re after a particular variety of olives, you’ll need to get cuttings or grafted varieties, as Olives do not come true to type from seed.
Plants grown from cuttings will start fruiting early, but plants from seed tend to be tougher.
Seed grown Olives will fruit in about 10 years, and if you can get your hands on fresh seed, it’s worth planting somewhere and just letting them do their thing until they become productive.
Olives are harvested at different stages of ripeness.
The green, unripe ones are often pickled or stuffed with things like pimento or anchovy, and the deep, dark purple fruits are pickled or packed in salt. Oil is pressed from ripe fruit.
Olive oil is made by harvesting ripe, black olives, crushing them, then pressing the oil out. Press each batch 3 or 4 times, until you get only clear liquid coming out. Put in jars or a big pot, leave, and the oil will float to the top.
Extra virgin olive oil is made from the first batch of cold-process oil pressing and olives are picked within 72 hours of processing. The second press yields fine virgin olive oils.
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High in protein and a great meat substitution, soybeans are a great self-sufficiency vegetable to grow. You can easily grow new soybeans by replanting some of your soybeans, ensuring a continuous supply.
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How to Grow Soybeans
Soybeans are easy to grow, quite adaptable to moist soils. Again, they grow best with regular feeding and water, and a decent pile of mulch.
They need support to grow, so plant them next to a trellis, fence, or other plants to grow up. They will grow up to 2 feet tall and will fall over without support. You can grow them really close together (as with Wheat, above) so they can support each other, or use the Three Sisters gardening method.
Soybeans are easy to grow from seed, very similar to other bean varieties.
They won’t grow well in cold weather or cold soil, so wait until your weather is suitable and soil is around 70F minimum for best results. Plant a few seeds every week for a few weeks and you’ll have a continuous supply for months.
Harvest your soybeans when the pods are still green. I prefer picking the pods one by one, rather than harvesting the whole plant, as they’ll often continue producing more.
Picking pods can also encourage other pods to grow. Don’t wait until pods turn yellow, the soybeans won’t taste anywhere near as nice!
You can make soy flour out of the dried beans, make soy milk, or tofu. The pods are known as edamame.
These are 5 staples vegetables to kick your self-sufficient garden into gear.
My favorites here are Cassava and Olive, they’re so easy to grow and incredibly useful. I’m on a mission to create a complete food forest, and these 5 productive vegetables are definitely some of the easiest plants to start with.
Originally published October 2019, updated September 2021