Jeannette Bedard is our next Write Club 2014 contestant, with her guest post on productive potatoes. Jeannette blogs at tangent ramblings. You can vote for this post by using the social media buttons in the sidebar to like it, and by leaving a comment.

At times, usually when I supposed to be doing something else because I’m a grad student and procrastination of some form seems to be part of the gig, I find myself planning what plants I would include in an imaginary biodome on a inhospitable planet many astronomical units away. Imaginary biodomes are one of my favourite thought exercises – to me it is the perfect fusion of my love of space exploration and my attempts to grow as much as my own food as I can in my small backyard.

Purple potatoes blooming

Right now, one of my food-growing issues is producing enough calories to feed my family of three. I have no problem growing plenty of nutritious food to eat year round, but this food is generally low in calories. I understand that the most calorie-dense food one can grow is the potato. Fortunately, I love potatoes, so I devoted an entire bed (of 6 beds) to them. On St. Patrick’s day I planted all my potatoes and by the beginning of August they were ready to dig up. I thought it was a great harvest (at least he best I’ve had so far), yet now in September it’s clear my potatoes will run out in October.

I have parsnips, salsify, carrots and beets on the go, all of which are more filling than kale (a staple here) but not enough to feed my family for long. I’m glad we live in an era where we aren’t at risk of starvation – the grocery store is only a short walk away. I’d just like to do better with my calorie production.

Since I’m already thinking about next year’s garden, producing more calories is at the forefront of my mind. This gives me an excuse to do more research on the enjoyable topic (for me) of biodomes for space exploration. From checking out what has been successful in biodomes, the following has made my list of calorie-dense foods to grow at my latitude:

Jerusalem artichokes – I’ve grown them in the past and they did well. Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan, not because they taste bad but because they don’t taste like potatoes. I’ve since found some new recipes, so they are worth trying again.

Dried beans – I grew bush beans for drying a few years ago and got a modest harvest for the space I committed. This time I’m going to try the vines. I’m generally quite successful at growing green beans (my hens feasted on green beans for weeks while I had a glut last summer an no time to pickle them). There seems to be a huge number of choices to experiment with. Has anyone tried lablab (hyacinth) beans?

Sweet potatoes and peanuts – I like both of these and I have a cunning plan to build a shelter for next summer which makes both of these a possibility at my latitude. I just have to figure out how to grow them.

Amaranth and quinoa – I read once that five square feet of wheat is required to make one loaf of bread, assuming I would need more than one loaf of bread this is more space than I can commit. But amaranth and quinoa appear to productive in a small amount of space so are worth a try (I don’t have any actual statistics to compare their productivity to wheat).

There are some food-stuffs have been used in these biodome experiments that I could grow/raise, but I doubt I could bring myself to eat. For example, in a recent biodome experiment conducted in China, they ate mealworms. My husband and I have successfully raised mealworms to feed our pets but I’d have to be in an apocalyptically dire situation to even think about feeding them to my family. Silk-worm pupa have also been suggested as a food source, which disgusts me just like the mealworms do.

Azolla growing in an aquarium

Azolla, an aquatic fern, is another potential food source. It has been used as animal feed for eons, is easy to grow and grows exponentially fast in shallow water. Eating it doesn’t gross me out like the bugs do, it just doesn’t seem appealing. I did recently acquire some azolla which is multiplying in my aquarium. My plan is to feed it to the hens as the recipes in the azolla cookbook I found were much less appealing than a walk to the grocery store.

Of course I’ll grow potatoes next year, probably giving them an entire bed. And after doing research on biodome space plants for m garden, I once again have a list of more things to grow than the space I have – plenty of fodder for another thought exercise.