Roleplaying in a survival game, building my own world and now I'm colonizing a new land.

For the sake of realism and immersion I want to find the most effective and efficient staple foods out there. I thought about garlic because it only takes 40 days to grow from one clove to an entire bulb, so it's quite fast but not the fastest food out there. But most importantly, because historically garlic was used for health purposes, it can burn pretty much most living cells that's why it was turned into creams to apply on wounds. Which is nasty and painful but preferable to a dead limb. It was also used to keep the mouth and gut free from dangerous bacteria. And to this day some poor countries still use it to fight sexually transmitted viruses and infections.

But here's the problem, it turns out garlic requires a temperature below 5 degrees Celsius or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to grow... which is quite a problem since the new colony is located in a continental zone without any strong oceanic winds to temper the climate. Therefore it's always burning hot, except during the winter, which is deadly cold.

So could garlic still be used as a staple food by growing it only in the winter and storing it for the rest of the year?

Technology level: No freezers.

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    $\begingroup$ Garlic lacks the concentration of calories necessary to be a staple. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jun 14 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ Are you sure garlic grows BELOW 5 CelSius? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 14 at 12:29
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I will tell you from experience if you eat a lot of garlic everyday your sweat will start to noticeably smell of garlic. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 14 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ "Garlic requires a temperature below 5 degrees celcius or below 40 degrees fahrenheit to grow:" I don't believe that this is true. Egypt produces 300,000 tonnes of garlic per year, and I'm pretty certain that in Egypt temperatures go below 5° C very rarely if ever. (Oh, and it is Celsius not **Celcius. It comes from the name of the Swedish physicist Anders Celsius.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 14 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ Try eating 2k calories worth of garlic in one day and get back to us. $\endgroup$
    – eps
    Jun 14 at 20:59

This is a Frame Challenge

Garlic would be a poor staple food. Consider the following nutritional facts about garlic (Source) and Wheat (Source):

Nutrition (100g) Garlic Wheat
Calories 150kcal 340kcal
Fat 0.0g 2.5g
Carbohydrates 33.3g 72.0g
Fiber 3.3g 10.7g
Sugars 0.0g 0.4g
Protein 6.7g 13.2g
Sodium 16.7mg 0.0g(?)

(?) = The 0.0g sodium for Wheat is based on its lack of representation in the link


Wheat has 2X the calories per serving, 2X the carbs (don't let diet fads fool you, the body actually requires carbs — just not as many as people tend to eat), 2X the protein, 3X the fiber, etc. gram-for-gram it's a much better product with only one exception: that fast growing time enjoyed by garlic.

So, what could you use?

From here we learn something my wife has been telling me for decades:

Potatoes (along with grain corn) will give you the most calories for the least space. They are easy to grow — just bury a piece of potato about the size of an egg with a couple of “eyes” on it in the ground in a 4-inch-deep furrow. In climates with cool summers, plant early, midseason and late varieties two to three weeks before your last spring frost date. Potatoes will be ready to harvest in about 65 to 90 days, depending on the variety.

Sweet potatoes, with their high beta carotene content, are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They love the heat, but you can grow them as far north as Canada.

But if you want more options, let's look at this list from a great article on survival gardening:

  1. Beans
  2. Corn
  3. Squash
  4. Cabbage
  5. Potatoes
  6. Kale
  7. Sweet Potatoes
  8. Lentils
  9. Onions
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Spinach
  12. Peas
  13. Beets
  14. Carrots
  15. Berries
  16. Garlic
  17. Peppers
  18. Cucumbers
  19. Melons
  20. Herbs

What's the take-away from that list? There is no "one food." Even staple foods like wheat, corn, potatoes, etc., are not recommended to be a super-high percentage of what's on your plate. Frankly, if you're looking for a food that can be the, let's say, 80%-of-what-we-eat-food, you probably should be thinking of fish.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ you have listed cabbage and peppers twice each. $\endgroup$
    – YoungJohn
    Jun 14 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Astarte You're probably right from the perspective of a modern society. Historically, poor and/or low-tech societies relied on fish. The Q's perspective is low-tech. $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ Another reason why you don't want to rely on just one crop is that a single nasty plant disease can eradicate your whole civilization. Using a wide variety of crops hedges your bets. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Jun 15 at 8:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Astarte Wouldn't grass be more economic options when compared to cows? after all cows eat grass ... so the vitamin and overall nutritional value should be similar I believe ;) $\endgroup$ Jun 15 at 9:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Poor and/or low-tech societies exclusively relied on fish only when no shellfish was readily available. Otherwise shellfish absolutely was a staple food for poor people, in addition to (and, according to some reports, ahead of) fish. Precisely because it’s abundant and easy to catch/harvest. In particular, fishing in larger quantities usually requires boats. Shellfish harvest often doesn’t. $\endgroup$ Jun 15 at 9:24

If the purpose is food, then the best crops by far are:

Corn (maize) for warm regions with just enough water
Rice for hot and very wet regions
and potatoes for cooler regions.

All three of these also have really excellent storage shelf life.

Wheat can be good, but is more fussy as to the climate it wants.

Garlic? Garlic would be around #1734 or so in my list of best plants for subsistence crops. But your info on garlic temperature is incorrect, they want 13C to 24C. Garlic would be an excellent minority crop for seasoning and medicinal purposes.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ no mention of the single biggest staple , wheat? which is still the number 1 calorie source for most of the world. and can be stored for years. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 14 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ @john i DO mention wheat. and saying it is the #1 calorie source is FALSE. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Jun 14 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ corn is produced more but most of it goes to animal feed and industrial uses, for human consumed calories, wheat is either number one or tied with rice. Wheat is oddly also the worlds number one protein source. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 14 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ Corn has a high nitrogen demand and will ruin the soil in your field if you don't rotate with crops that re-nitrogenate (clover, soybeans and other legumes...) Mega farms in the USA just continuously dump nitrogen fertilizer, which creates nitrogen runoff. A colony would probably not have a fertilizer plant handy. To maintain a given acreage of crop, you need 2-3 times the land if you use rotation. the "3 sisters method" would work for a less industrialized society with lower demands. That said, legumes are a high fiber foodstuff. $\endgroup$
    – Jason
    Jun 15 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Jason: Although there are nitrogen-fixing corn varieties, so the right breed of corn needn't be quite so soil-draining (the variety from Oaxaca gets roughly half its nitrogen needs from the air). Obviously, if you're in a non-industrialized society, crop rotation will still be necessary. Bright side, without industrialization, you need to grow various things for horses or oxen to do the work, and those things, e.g. clover, allow rotation, while the animals produce manure for fertilizer. $\endgroup$ Jun 15 at 19:58

Garlic is not a good staple food. No civilization has ever subsisted on it.

I would suggest growing cereal grains and pulses over tubers because they last longer. Wheat, rice, beans, lentils, and corn last much longer than potatoes or taro.

Here is a good blend of crops that I would suggest to ensure proper nutrition and long shelf life:

  • Wheat
  • Maize
  • Duborskian rice
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • A variety of leafy and root vegetables (which can be preserved through fermentation and pickling)
  • A variety of fruits (which can be made into preserves like the ones shown here: https://shop.donnascountrykitchen.ca/Fruit-Preserves-c30324188)

Frame challenge

Chickens and/or cow/horses.

Cows have milk which you can use straight away or it can be converted into stuff that can be stored for years(cheese - good stuff good stuff), and there are numerous ways to preserve meat without freezers. Smaller and more wilder versions like goats is also a legit and sometimes more convenient option

Horses pretty much the same - meat, blood, skin, etc - everything is useful.

Both are used for transportation as well, which survival-wise is helpful.

The best thing about them, they eat grass, and the grass grows pretty much on its own, at all places. (Winter however is a problem, as one needs to store that grass)

So yeah there are reasons why those animals were popular among nomads, in cold places where bananas do not grow, etc. In places where it is possible to have them, it is quite convenient to have them.

Chickens are another good stuff. They can't sustain themselves on the grass alone, but they bring eggs which shelf life is half a month easily, and those eggs can be a replacement for meat. And here is the good part - they can eat bugs and all sorts of insects and worms. They eat meat, including those you do not want to eat - spoiled a little bit. They eat plant food as well grass, seeds.

They are like pigs, you can feed them what you do not want to eat.

And here is a good part, one of the things you do not want to eat - insect larvae, fly of all kinds - there are many. Flies(and some other insects as well) are famous for eating things which, hm, how to word it, hm, basically only them eat that stuff.

You can convert trash, grass, plants, meat spoiled not spoiled - whatever you have - into worms. You can make worms out of all kinds of trash you can find around and have them being feed to chickens with grass as well. (Sure there are ways to do it good and right, and not so well. But there is youtube and there are videos on that topic. A keyword is probably - composting, chickens, soldier fly, red worms.)

Animals are in some aspects more robust in terms of environmental conditions, they have better immune systems, they heal. They are more forgiving of some mistakes. They can defend themselves or escape, at least the number of creatures wanting to eat them are lesser in numbers.

For a variety of reasons, including - one chicken(for lack of words and simplicity) can get you 50-150 new chickens a year - chickens are better than garlic.

Animals, in general, are the way to convert inedible vegetables to edible stuff, and they are ready to do so from the get-go.

Things are not that simple, but nomadic tribes which did and do have animals are proof of viability. Animals allow people to survive and do pretty well in places like extreme north where most of the year no plants are growing at all, not even winter garlic of yours.

Next best option is hunting-gathering - really nothing new, good old still the same.


  • okay, seems there is a need for some


There are around 250 recognized breeds of cows, for all sorts of purposes and with all sorts of properties, they even have a mini jersey cow, the size of a dog(a very big one), lol, how much better it can be.

But here American Milking Devon this is the gold, this is a cow for those who wish to survive, like OP, this is the cow of settlers since the 17th century. Its purpose and goal and properties is to survive and let people survive with it as well. It is a multipurpose cow. It not best at milking, meat quantity, but it good at eating whatever is available grass, saplings, or whatever it finds to chew on.

It is a healthy, well-established breed, probably a bit in decline those days but. So if you decide to take a cow for you to survive - you take this one.

difficulties raising animals

It is a truth that a novice has 50/50 chances to kill an animal this or another way by his care, especially ones which are not suited for free-range, or in circumstances when such option is not available, or productive breeds.

I assume wilderness is freely available there, no charges, no money, and only one's efforts, self-reliance, as survival in stone jungles is a whole bunch of a different story.

There are easier breeds, there are more demanding ones. There are different goals for them. Never you take for survival productive breeds, especially modern ones - be it for milk, be it for meat whatever they made for it implies good care, and for good ones it implied you will do extremely good care and assumed you do know exactly what you do and have access to all sorts of modern stuff. They require special care to achieve the performance(and some just to stay alive or not become crippled), and not necessarily do good without it, they not necessarily healthy ones, they won't survive in wild - humanity goes puff so will they as well. But there are robust ones, and those are the valid option.

There are animals and breeds of those which are easier to take care of. 10000 years of selection weren't for nothing.

are plants better?

No, it is categorical no, period.

Why? The main problem isn't as it is the same situation for novice farmers to kill plants, or that if you noticed something wrong it is too late, and not that plants can't moo to you hinting some problems.

No, the problem is that even if you experienced farmer, decades of experience, the whole life you live from land - the result isn't guaranteed. Even today, even on farms which plant stuff day in and day out for since the inception of the farm hundred few hundred years ago. The result isn't guaranteed.

There are few reasons for that. One of which - plants can't move. Not by themselves, not by your efforts.

You can think - it isn't a big deal, right? Well, it also means you can't cover shelter them in bad weather - hail, strong wind, strong rain, too much sun - those are dangers for plants which by nature have to be under the sky. And if it happens, and it does, then even today there is nothing of help.

Planting, as a process may be easier with today's technologies, but without it - if there are no animals to aid you in the process, planting enough will be pain in the rear. Not impossible. Harvesting is also a problem, and it does not come without work in between.

Plants are sensitive to the structure of soil (is it lose, is it clay-ish, is it...), to acidity, to other stuff. Sensitive to climate, how good was the weather for them, etc. Crop rotation, fertilizing, etc.

It can't run from insects, it can't outrun even a snail, which creeps on it.

If someone thinks it such a carefree thing, oh boy ...

There sure are good things about plants as well. So as for animals. And there are bad things about both of them as well.

But converting non-edible plant matter into edible stuff - there really something futuristic there in that.

Wrapping up

If one can, take animals and plants.

If you managed both - animals your food from get-go. Do plant tpse plants as well and do pray they grow as you plan them to be.

Cows it for serious colonization, settlement, they not the best animals to get initially, but they can be a great help in planting and harvesting. The main reason for why not, because they multiply in numbers too slow.

Rabbits, chickens, pigs - those are fast guys. Out of those only rabbits can live entirely on grazing. Chickens are suitable for the free-range approach, but they need supplementary meaty stuff if they do not have enough of it on free-range. Worms can be one of the ways to close the loop on grass, and there are such examples. Pigs are the worst, works if you have enough food for yourself plus extra.

And only chicken(or any other egg-laying bird of that kind laying eggs once in a few days, which is not typical for any random bird) do provide food from day zero, and one can sustain on it fully and there is no plant alternative for such performance.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Note that animal husbandry is only worth it when you have access to pastures you can't or don't want to convert to farmland. When space is a problem, then you get far more calories per acre when you don't send those calories through the metabolism of an animal instead of eating them directly. So meat and dairy becomes a luxury. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Jun 15 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ To feed a cow you first need to build a wheat farm and feed the cow wheat... They don't just grow from grass.. Not fat enough, not big enough to be eaten. Production of cow meat is a monetary loss. $\endgroup$
    – user85880
    Jun 15 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ Also animals spread disease more easily, cow meat needs to be treated for 1 to 5 months before it is legally allowed to be sold in europe... Corona virus for example didn't arise from garlic, it arisen from poultry... In the past 2 decades we got plenty of deadly diseases arising from chicken and pigs... I rember the death charts on TV as I was growing up and my parents panicking. $\endgroup$
    – user85880
    Jun 15 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp yes, that is the whole point. If OP not going to a desert - there will be a grass at arrivial, immediatly, it is already there, no wait period at all. Even at mountans here, people preffer keep animals. Every path of land is source of grass, but not every patch can be a crop field. But yes next thing for expansion are crop fields and meadows as well. Picking something one is really a hard choice, both have cons and pros, but animals will survive where humans do, plants of your liking not necessarly so. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jun 15 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ @user85880 you do not normally feed the cow the whole wheat but the stem, which you don't typically eat yourself. Generally speaking, unless you grow vegetables that are 100% edible, opposing farming and husbandry is nonsense. I think your comments are based on the wrong assumption that husbandry as a surviving activity and husbandry as a profitable activity in an industrial world can be compared. $\endgroup$
    – spectras
    Jun 16 at 11:58

Others have made some good points and suggested a lot of great plant or livestock options. I would also add bees to the list of things you might want to bring with you. They don't give any meat, except if you are willing to eat the drones which don't have a stinger. But they provide a very important service that is fertilizing certain crops and they will give you honey and wax which both have medical applications or high calorie count. They even can be used to fight of dangerous animals or attackers, there are some "bee-fences" used in Africa to stop elephants from eating farmers crops.


Having garlic as a staple food would result in malnutrition and possibly even mass starvation. First of all, garlic is very low in fat and a lot of other nutrients, such as fiber, calcium, iron, etc. Therefore, people would have to consume a LOT of garlic. You would have to eat ~500 servings of garlic a day to get the daily amount of 2,000 calories, as each serving of garlic has 4 calories. Plus, garlic by itself tastes bad, as it is very spicy and hot. Although it is flavorful, it is NOT something you would want to eat in large quantities, and this is from experience (mine). Wheat, corn, rice, and other grains are much better staple foods than garlic.


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