Vegetable Garden Basics: Part 3 – The What’s & How Much’es
Alright…I’m ready to finish up my Vegetable Garden Basics series. And besides that…y’all need to get a move-on if you’re going to have a spring or summer vegetable garden this year.
For those of you just tuning in, a few weeks ago…in Part 1, I provided you with some things to consider as to where you should put your veggie garden. And then…in Part 2, I gave you my take on the advantages and disadvantages of using raised beds.
This week I’m going to be a bit aggressive and try to tackle the rest of the questions I’m most frequently asked. Today I’m going to answer…
- What should I plant?
- How big should my vegetable garden be?
- How much will my garden produce?
And later this week I’m going to answer…
- Is there any rhyme or reason as to where certain plants go relative to one another?
- Should I plant seeds or starter plants?
- When should I get started?
Unfortunately, as my answer was to the raised beds or not question…my quick answer to most of the questions above is…it depends…on a number of things. But let me explain.
What should I plant?
When trying to figure out what to plant, clearly the first thing you should consider is what you and your family like to eat. In other words, don’t grow what you don’t like.
But let me suggest that you push yourself a little bit each year and try something new. Now…don’t plant 7 eggplants if you choke at just the thought of it. Start small…with just one. But once your one plant produces a few purple beauties, you may just end up finding a recipe that you actually end up really liking.
That happened to me…well, I didn’t find the recipes, Britt did. But now I love eggplant and okra…two veggies I couldn’t stand before. What I used to consider gag-worthy veggies, I now really love. In fact, Britt has a tough time keeping the girls and me away from the okra while she’s cooking it to have enough to serve for dinner. (Here’s the okra recipe that made me an okra convert.)
Beyond that…you should also consider what season you’re in and what your growing conditions are. If you don’t have much sun or summer’s coming to a close, you probably shouldn’t start growing a tomato today.
So read the labels, do a little research, and connect the dots with the time of year and how much sun you get in your veggie garden. And you should be good to go.
And by the way…from a “what’s in season” perspective, if your nursery is carrying a certain vegetable, it’s likely that it’s something you can grow now.
How big should my garden be…and how much will it produce?
Clearly, how much your garden will produce is largely a function of how big it is. And how big it is depends on how much space you have or want to dedicate to growing veggies. But there are some other factors as well:
- How much your garden will produce also depends on which vegetables you want grow…given that different veggies have different yields.
- In addition, as I’ve said several times before, sun makes a huge impact on how productive your veggie garden will be. The more sun, the more flowers. The more flowers the more fruit…or veggies.
- Likewise, to get those flowers to do more than just look pretty…they’ll need to be pollinated. So the more pollinators you have the more veggies you’ll likely get. That’s why some folks will interplant their veggies with flowers to attract more bees and butterflies.
- And to throw yet another variable in there that you have absolutely no control over is…it depends on Mother Nature and what she decides to do in any given season.
But to give you some sense of things…especially for those of you who like data…here’s a great article from Mother Earth News…on this very topic. In a nutshell, what they figured out was…you could grow $700 worth of food in a 100 square foot space. And by the way, their garden included: 2 tomato plants; a variety of 6 peppers; 4 zucchini; 4 basil; and a variety of 18 lettuces.
And for those of you who really love numbers, here’s a great post from the Oregon State University Master Gardener website that spells out the cost/savings of growing your own vegetables. It may be a bit dated, but you should still check it out if you’re interested.
But let me close out this section with a few thoughts…just to set your expectations and to help you optimize your efforts:
- Even though the 2 references I provided above speak in terms of $ savings, be prepared to be in the hole financially for some time…if not for a loooong time. I know…in the 5 years that we’ve had a veggie garden, we certainly haven’t covered the upfront costs of building our raised beds, the annual costs of putting new plants in the ground (although nominal), and the general maintenance costs. You can definitely make choices that minimize your costs…but everything costs money and time.
- But…but…there’s so much more value that comes from growing your own veggies than what can be measured with your wallet – enjoyment, health benefits for your family, and gaining a better understanding of where food comes from…which should translate into healthier food choices all around.
- Unless you’re militant about only eating what you grow and are able to produce an amazing harvest, you’ll still very likely be visiting the veggie section of your local grocery store…or going to the farmers market. It’s just that some of your favorite veggies may not be easily grown where you live or in your veggie garden…and besides that, some veggies will be out of season. So I’d suggest that you consider growing veggies as a supplement to still purchasing other veggies.
- But hey…knock yourself out if you can make it work. That just hasn’t been our experience…but we still really enjoy what we can grow.
- Lastly, if you really want to optimize your veggie growing efforts throughout the year, I’d suggest that you consider learning how to preserve your excess produce. That…and sharing your bountiful harvest with friends and neighbors…are the best ways to squeeze the most value out of your garden. And there’s no better place to learn about preserving food than Theresa Loe’s Living Homegrown website. On it she provides great how-to information and a ton of really tasty recipes. I know Theresa from working with Growing a Greener World®. She’s not only the guru when it comes to preserving food, she’s an incredible person to boot.
Alright, that’s a lot of information, I know…but we’re just getting started. Check back in later this week when I’ll answer the questions…
Take care friends,
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