Five Garden Questions To Ask Before You Plant

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates
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So many garden options. Photo by Carole Coates

Is it possible to have too much garden space? Not for me. So I have to think about how to pare down my garden wish list. I’ve come up five questions to help me decide what to grow and what to bypass. 

How Productive Is It?

What gives me the most volume for the space it requires? Peas and green beans, especially grown vertically, are big on volume. They keep producing as long as I harvest frequently. Zucchini is a famous heavy producer. (I grate some of the excess and freeze it for fall bread-baking.) Potatoes get a yes on this measure, too. As do cut-and-come-again crops like kale, Swiss chard, salad greens.  

Growing on a garden arch makes productive plants like beans so much easier to harvest. Photo by Carole Coates

On the other hand, melons and winter squash demand a huge amount of space for a precious few fruits. Likewise, one stalk of corn typically produces only one or two ears. A single meal for a family of four requires at least two stalks. Then the plant’s done for. Corn eats up space, too. I comes in all at once, and I definitely don’t have room to succession plant it.

How Nutritious Is It?

If I look at the garden from a purely nutritional standpoint, I’ll choose dark leafy greens over starchy potatoes. Kale, chard, and spinach pack a real nutritional punch. They’re mainstays for healthy smoothies, too, so they can be eaten morning, noon, and night.

How Well Does It Grow For Me?

As much as I hate to admit it, tomatoes do not do well in the short, cool, wet, summers here. I’ll save space, time, money, and tears by passing on this crop. Besides, I can enjoy far more variety by shopping the farmers’ market stalls than I could produce myself. On the other hand, carrots love my garden, so I plant plenty. 

Carrots: easy, delicious, nutritious, and space-saving–a perfect planting choice for me. Photo by Carole Coates

How Easy Is It?

What a treat to plant once and receive bounty for years to come? Asparagus, sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes), and rhubarb are prime examples of easy. And as good as rhubarb is as pie, it can be used for so much more, including quick breads, savory dishes, and ketchup. Check out this site for rhubarb recipe ideas. Garlic and sweet potatoes are other easy-to-grow crops. After planting, I can pretty much forget about them until harvest time. Then there are the re-seeders, such as ground cherries.  

What could be easier than planting a perennial that will serve you for years to come? Photo by Carole Coates

Is It Cost Effective?

Perennials fit in this category, too. Conversely, some seed packets include shamefully few seeds for the cost and aren’t big producers, either. A cauliflower plant will get me one head, whereas one pepper plant produces a number of peppers in the same or even less space.

One Last Question

And it’s an important one—how much do I love it? The most productive, nutritious, easy, inexpensive vegetable is a waste if I won’t to eat it. Frankly, I’ve never met a vegetable I don’t like, but I like some more than others. A few, such as radishes, I prefer in small doses—growing them at all produces more than I care to eat. I never tire of lima beans, though—and I can freeze excess for winter.  

The Bottom Line

Some plants tick all of my boxes, others only one or two. It’s no surprise that for me, the losers include corn and tomatoes, much as I love both. I’m better off growing what will produce, give my family more nutrition, and save space and money. Leafy greens and root crops will earn the biggest share of my garden space. When I crave radishes, tomatoes, or corn, a trip to the farmers’ market is an easy cure.

What Are Your Big Questions?

You may have different criteria. Whatever your overarching goals, developing a plan for seed and plant selection before you start your garden will net you a better all-around result.

Carole Coatesis a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole atLiving On the Diagonalwhere she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.


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