Deciding what to grow

At the end of February, the vegetable garden is still in a state of planning. Because for many of us space and time are limited and complete self-sufficiency is a distant dream, we have to somehow limit what we grow. Obviously, it’s best to grow the vegetables you enjoy eating. But beyond that there are other things you might want to consider before ordering your seeds, for example which vegetables give the highest yield? Which are easiest to grow?
Bellow I have explored vegetables from different points-of-view.

Please note: our garden is in the eastern part of the Netherlands, hardiness zone 7, and while some of my advice is universal, some may be mostly relevant to gardeners growing vegetables under similar conditions. For example, tomatoes are a very productive vegetable under favourable conditions, but are plagued by blight in our rainy summers and are therefore not included.

1. Easy to grow
These vegetables will almost always do well and are not too picky about growing conditions. They have few pest or disease problems. They are great for the beginning gardener who needs to gain some self confidence first, or for gardeners who have very little time to spend on their plot.

Zucchini, beets, chard, lettuce, winter purslane, beans, peas, endive

2. High yielding
These vegetables give the highest yield considering the amount of space they take up and the time they will be in the ground. For example, cut-and-come-again leaves can usually be harvested about three times, the first harvest only about four weeks from sowing. Vegetables that can be grown vertically and thus don’t take up much space on the ground, score well, too.

Cut-and-come-again mixed leaves, broccoli rabe, pole beans, snow peas (mangetout), early potatoes, early beets (sown thickly and harvested small, fas growing Oriental brassicas (such as tatsoi and paksoi), rocket, leaf mustard, early carrots

3. Expensive
The high price of vegetables is often caused by the cost of harvesting – if something needs to be harvested manually, or extra carefully, it’s expensive. It does not necessarily mean that the vegetable is difficult to grow. Sometimes the price is caused by scarceness – vegetables that are little grown and not much of them is sold.

Snow peas (mangetout), sugarsnaps, shalots, mixed leaves, corn salad (lamb’s lettuce), asparagus

4. Unbuyables
In a way, everything you grow falls into this category – the freshness of homegrown produce is something that you cannot buy. But many varieties are simply not sold at all.

Fresh borlotti beans, yellow snow peas, summer purslane, colourful kale, edible flowers, many Oriental greens (tatsoi)

5. Better fresh
Very fresh vegetables are usually sweeter than vegetables that have been harvested days ago (i. e. just about everything you buy in a shop), because after the harvest the sugars start being converted to starch. The most striking example of this is probably sweet corn, which you should only harvest after you’ve got your water boiling. But I find that most homegrown vegetables are sweeter.

Asparagus, sweet corn, peas, early carrot, green beans, lettuce



2 comments for “Deciding what to grow

  1. 23/02/2013 at 00:43

    Great tips.

    We are beginners with little time for gardening but incredibly interested. For eight years we were dedicated to fill our garden with fruit trees, berries and herbs only. Since last year we started with two vegetable beds, we tried everything we found organic. Started with tomatoes (because my husband have done them before and is a very optimistic), zucchini, ruccola (rocket), spinach. Tomato outdoors was a total flop (we are in Middle Norway, what were we thinking) and zucchini too. But we manage to pick loads of flowers… However, ruccola and spinach were amazing, we eat loads of them everyday. It is quite impossible to find fresh & organic spinach here and I love spinach in everything, so next summer I’ll go for spinach again as I have frozen bags of leaves for green smoothies and spinach cream. So good. Can’t wait to start the beds again. I’d love to try borlloti beans, kale and endive, but never seen their seeds around here. Do you somewhere we can find them on the web?

    All the best

    • vera@gtc
      23/02/2013 at 09:30

      I’m sure kale will do well for you, I have once worked (shortly) on an organic farm close to Trondheim and they grew great kale there. For seeds I would recommend – they have a great selection of organically grown heirloom varieties and their seed is always fresh (which is not always the case with bigger seed companies). This Dutch organic seed comapny is also reliable:
      As far as tomatoes are concerned, I have had most success with very early bush varieties such as Grushovka and Ida Gold. But tomatoes are always difficult.
      Lykke til!

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