Choosing What to Plant
Q. It is time for the annual sale of this year's seeds in the US. Could you give some ideas on what would be good to buy for planting next year? I would like high nutritional value if possible. What would you suggest? My goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible.
A. The first rule is to buy and plant what you enjoy eating! The second consideration should be what makes sense economically, and third, consider varieties that do well in your climate and at certain times of year. The Garden Master CD, available at www.growfood.com, has a wonderful database of vegetables, with lots of information you'll want to know to make a wise decision for your family.
My family eats almost no broccoli or cauliflower, so I won't grow them for the home garden. We all love tomatoes - both large (Big Beef is the favorite this year) and small (grape tomatoes have really captured our hearts!) And spinach is great in salads as well as cooked, grows fast, and can be grown early and late in space not yet able to be used for warm weather crops, or after other crops are harvested. Peppers and eggplant are also favorites, and we eat them at least once per week. You get the idea.
Some crops that produce the most "bang for the buck" include tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and yellow crookneck, and perhaps cantaloupe or other climbing squash or small melons. The key is that these are everbearing, and most can be grown vertically, so they take relatively small space in your garden. Single crop varieties like cabbage and carrots can also be good, but most of them should be harvested in a short time, before they become over-ripe and/or infested with pests and diseases, and this causes waste unless you have a good cool storage place, such as a root cellar. If you enjoy red beets, I recommend Cylindra as one that holds in the garden for a long time without getting tough and woody.
I would avoid growing corn in the small family garden, because it takes so much space and produces very little. For example, a single corn stalk takes basically the same space as a tomato plant, but only produces one or two "fruits", while an indeterminate tomato plant may produce as much as 15 to 20 pounds of fruit. And in many places in the western USA potatoes are about 1/10th as expensive as tomatoes, so if space is limited, that may not be a high priority. However, potatoes (along with winter squash, cabbage, carrots, etc.) will store for many months if done properly.
The third criterion is finding things that grow well in your climate, and choose the right time of year. For those in the cooler climates with shorter growing seasons, it is wishful thinking to try and grow sweet potatoes and peanuts. And there are a few other crops that require long growing seasons and/or hot weather. Look on the seed packet, or a catalog, or in several of the Mittleider gardening books or CD's. The large watermelons come to mind as examples. And particularly for those of you in the hot climates, grow spinach and brassica's at the beginning and end of your growing season.
The Mittleider Gardening books and Manuals teach all you need to know about this subject, and can be purchased in the Store section, or as digital downloads.
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