Growing Calories as Well as Vitamins

by Susan McCanless

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Backyard Vegetable Garden

Everyone knows that you can add a lot of vitamins to your daily diet by growing and eating your own vegetables. But how many of your daily calories can you add? Most people, when they start vegetable gardening, grow things like salad stuff and tomatoes. Later they probably add some green beans and maybe some peas, and possibly some summer squash and greens. These are delicious and certainly good for you, but they don't supply many calories. So the bulk of your diet is still supplied by the grocery store. How can you lessen your dependence on the store and provide a substantial amount of the daily calories you need, saving on grocery bills in the process?

You need crops that are fairly easy to grow, calorie-dense and nutritious. The crops should be able to be grown in a fairly compact area, as most home gardens are fairly small. Corn is probably out, since it takes a lot of land to supply enough corn to feed a family. Wheat can be fairly productive in a small area, but requires knowledge of how to harvest and thresh the grain. A grain mill is also a necessity for wheat or dried corn, but is not something most families would have.

Potatoes are a good crop to start with. They are fairly easy to grow. If you live in an area with a long growing season, you might even be able to grow two crops. You can grow up to two hundred pounds of potatoes in a ten-foot by ten-foot garden plot. Each pound of potatoes contains approximately 420 calories, so you could produce 84,000 calories from this small space. Contrast this with the calories from the amount of green beans that could be grown in the same space. Even if your plot yielded 20 pounds of beans, you would only have grown about 1,200 calories.

You can obtain seed potatoes from a mail-order nursery or from your local garden center. Be sure to get seed potato that is certified disease-free. Cut each potato into pieces about the size of an egg, making sure that each piece has at least one or two "eyes," the place where the potato will sprout. Plant each piece of potato about six inches deep and leave eight to twelve inches between the pieces in a row. Rows should be 24 to 30 inches apart.

Once the potatoes have sprouted, hill up around them with soil from between the rows or cover them well with mulch, especially if you live in an area with hot summers. You don't want the potato tubers exposed to sunlight, as the exposed parts will turn green and be inedible. Dig the potatoes when the tops have yellowed and fallen over. Store in a cool, dry place.

You can also grow potatoes in straw or in old tires stacked on top of each other with hay or leaves inside. This can reserve your established garden space for other crops. To do this, put the potato pieces directly on the ground and put the mulching material over the potatoes. Continue to add more mulch as the potato plants grow. Harvesting is easy; just pull the potatoes out of the mulch.

Sweet potatoes are excellent to grow if you have a long, warm growing season. Full of vitamin A and deliciously sweet, they have a sunny taste that will remind you of summer. Although you can only get one crop of sweet potatoes a year, you may get up to 80 pounds of sweet potatoes from a ten four by ten foot plot. At approximately 640 calories per pound, that is 51,200 calories. Sweet potato shoots can be steamed or stir-fried and eaten, also, although if you eat too many of the shoots you will reduce the yield of the tubers.

Grow sweet potatoes from slips obtained from your local nursery. The slips should be planted after the ground has had a chance to warm up in the spring. Plant the slips 15 inches apart from each other in rows 30 inches apart. Keep them weeded until the vines spread out to cover all the ground in the row or bed. After that, the vines will smother out most weeds.

Dig the sweet potatoes after the first frost. Let them cure in a warm sunny place for a few days. Then store in a cool place with relatively high humidity. Sweet potatoes will not keep as well as regular potatoes, so be prepared to use them up more quickly.

With a little more effort, and maybe a little more gardening room, you can supply many of your family's calories as well as their nutrition. So grow some of your own calories next gardening season. You won't be disappointed.

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