One of the biggest mistakes a beginner gardener can make is trying to grow too much. You’re looking to plant a garden because you caught the bug and you want to grow EVERYTHING. Unfortunately you can’t, and deciding what to grow is a huge question every gardener has to deal will.
I get it, I have that bug, and in me it’s more like a full blown addiction. I literally have 50+ varieties of fruit on my 5 acre property.
But, if you want to have a successful garden and you don’t want to burn out you have to keep it simple, at least to start. I have a few criteria for deciding what to grow in your vegetable garden that I turn to when planning ahead.
Like the pirates code, this is more of a guideline. Your garden should reflect you, not me or some guide you find on Pinterest.
Grow Things You Like to Eat
This may seem like an odd place to start when your planning what to grow. When you plan your garden give the most time and energy to things you love.
I’m a total tomato snob, I will not buy a grocery store tomato. That’s part of the reason I eat so much salsa. Nothing beats a homegrown, sun and vine ripened tomato.
Make a list of the top 5 vegetables you like to eat. Take that list and do a little research to see how many of them can grow where you live. Then start there.
That’s actually not a bad place to start, minus the asparagus. That’s a perennial crop that takes some dedication. I have a large asparagus bed in the vegetable garden and it’s the first harvest every year.
That maybe why I love it so much, after the cold and dark winter having something so bright and fresh is truly amazing!
Full disclosure, I’m incredibly guilty of ignoring this rule. That’s how I ended up growing king oyster mushrooms even though I would rather eat a shoe than a mushroom.
Grow Things that are Expensive to Buy
Seasonal eating can cut back quite a bit on food expenses but growing your own food is a great way to save even more cash.
I love garlic, good local garlic can run a dollar a head. I grew 150+ heads of garlic in 2017 from garlic I saved from 2016.
That’s a lot of money saved, and even better it’s really high quality garlic. I always plant a few odd balls like Georgian Fire but I mostly stick to German White and Music. I have to grow hardneck garlic where live and those are the two main types.
Fresh herbs can also be expensive. They don’t last long once cut so picking up a fresh batch of thyme or basil every other week can add up quick.
Basil is very frost sensitive and is usually grown as an annual. It does really well in a pot. Even if you don’t have room or time for a garden a pot of basil on the porch is a great summer treat.
Dill is another favorite of mine, even though I grow it mostly for the swallowtail caterpillars. It’s easy to grow from seed and it usually reseeds if you let it.
Grow Things that are Easy
This is a no-brainer. The easier things are to grow the more you can handle. I have a few crops that basically grow themselves.
Zucchini is a great one, if you can get it going in rich soil you’re set. It grows so quickly it shades out most of the competing weeds. If you have a problem with powdery mildew check out a hybrid variety breed for disease resistance.
Peas are another easy crop. They are direct seeded and don’t require much more effort. Taller types do better with a trellis but it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, I prop up a length of cattle panel.
They aren’t fussy about spacing and tolerate cold soil. Peas aren’t a fan of the heat so start them early and pick a heat tolerant variety if you’re in a warmer climate.
One more garden monster than isn’t traditionally a part of the vegetable garden is rhubarb. Rhubarb is an easy to grow, aka can’t kill it, high yielding crop that doesn’t take much time or effort. I have a whole post about growing and harvesting rhubarb that you should check out for more info.
Grow Things with a High Yield
There are few things in the garden world worse than planting and tending a garden for a whole summer only to get a single meals worth of produce.
Grow things that will give you a good return on your investment.
I don’t bother growing sweet corn. It’s tall so it shades part of the garden, you need a decent block to get good pollination and you only get a few ears at most.
And I can buy local sweet corn in season 4/$1 so it’s not worth the space and energy needed to keep the raccoons away.
Zucchini and tomatoes are both examples of plants with a lot to give. I can feel my family with 6 zucchini plants, and that includes freezing some for later.
Indeterminate tomatoes keep producing all summer long. Once they get going I rarely have a day without a new tomato or seven to pick.
I like to grow smaller tomatoes for fresh eating, something I can pop in my mouth whole on the way in from the garden.
Basil is easy to manage for high yields. The more you pinch off the bushier it gets, as long as you are careful to to take too much off. You don’t want to cut off 75% of the plant, that’ll set it back too much and it will take a while for it to come back.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings on picking what to grow in your garden. I think it’s important that you pick things that fit into your life, gardening is very personal and you should enjoy the process and the end product.