This has been my third year of gardening and I can tell I’m learning and honing my skills. Of course the saying “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know,” completely applies, but it’s a nice feeling that my hobby is turning into something that is actually helping our family.
My first year I grew anything and everything, mostly because I was just excited to get going! I grew corn, carrots, heads of
lettuce, and even attempted watermelon (a dismal failure). This year I was more thoughtful in my approach, and I’m already beginning to make plans for next spring. I wanted to share with you some of my new thinking about what to grow in a small home garden, and why.
#1 – Grow food you know what to do with.
I’ve said before grow what you love to eat, and that still holds true. But here’s an added thought: grow produce you actually know what to do with and/or know how you will use.
I remember my first year growing two zucchini plants and I was so sick of zucchini at the end of the season. I sauteed some, but most got turned into breads. I didn’t really have much other use for zucchini besides gifting it to relatives. Cucumbers are another one of those vegetables I might forgo next year. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing like a garden-grown cuke! But when all of a sudden you have tons of them ready, and they will only store for 3 days or so in your fridge? Well, there’s only so much you can do with them other than eat them raw. (And I’m not a pickle girl.)
Herbs are another example of versatile edibles that are easy to grow! This is the first year I made a real effort to incorporate lots of herbs into my garden and I’m wondering why I didn’t do so sooner! This year I grew: mint, cilantro, sage, parsley, and oregano. There’s nothing like going out to the garden with a big pair of kitchen shears and snipping up fresh grown herbs to drop into your pasta sauce, dress up a grilled veggie sandwich, or even pop into a smoothie.
Many herbs can also be dried or frozen and saved for eating later. You can also pot some herbs and bring them inside for enjoying fresh herbs year-round.
#2 – Grow Food that Stores Well.
This year I grew dry shelling beans for the first time.
As I was shelling these beauties, it occurred to me how frugal-friendly they were! I didn’t have to freeze them, prep them, can them, worry about eating them right away – they came off the vine ready to be stored. I plan on incorporating lots more dry beans next year.
Onions and garlic are additional vegetables I have grown for storage with success! Above is a picture of this year’s onion harvest. Near the end of their growing cycle, I did not water them, which helped them to create a dry skin. I then let them cure a few more days outdoors on a pallet before cleaning them off and putting them in my garage. They are delicious! I had one in my red beans & quinoa dinner last night, as a matter of fact. Both onions and garlic are very easy to grow.
Last week I planted the above garlic – isn’t it beautiful? You can read about it at my how to plant garlic post.
#3 – Grow Food that Makes the Best Use of your Garden Space.
You might think that because I have seven containers that I have a huge garden.
But the truth is, without careful planning, I can easily waste up valuable gardening space. I know, because I’ve done this before. For instance, growing heads of lettuce may be pretty, but a smarter choice for my size of a garden is loose-leaf lettuce (cut and come again). I can snip what I need and it continues to grow instead of waiting for an entire head to mature and then ripping the whole thing up.
Another technique I experimented with this year, and wish I’d done sooner was growing vertically. I successfully grew my beans on a simply-constructed teepee trellis this year. Not only does this method free up garden space, it just looks pretty!
In my garden, it’s really important to be mindful of “space hogs.” Which isn’t to say I won’t ever grow something that will turn out gigantic, I just want to make sure to be deliberate about it.
#4 – Grow Food that has Multiple Purposes
My approach to gardening? Organic. I don’t want to mess with harsh pesticides or herbicides in my garden. What this has meant is that I must learn to contend with pests and sometimes “not so pretty” produce. But I’ve learned the trade off of washing off a few caterpillars on my kale plants is worth it. And sometimes letting my plants just be and not fuss over them so much has resulted in happy accidents.
My cilantro plants were one of those happy accidents this year.
I let one of my plants flower – it was beautiful! The ton of purple flowers it produced attracted tons of bees to my garden at a time in late summer when there wasn’t much else flowering in my garden. But after that, the cilantro grew seed heads.
Which I then collected and separated….
And now I have coriander! Some of these will be planted for next year’s cilantro crop, others will be enjoyed in winter dishes.
Part of this may be simply learning what parts of a plant are edible. For instance, if you grow peas – did you know you can also eat the vines? Yes, it’s true, and they make a delicious addition to a green smoothie, salad, or stir fry! You can also eat the greens off of beets, and I’ve heard, celeraic. When you grow garlic, you can eat the scapes that shoot up in early summer, and if you grow squash, you can eat the blossoms.
#5 – Grow Food that Brings you Pleasure
This might sound silly, but some things I’ve grown because I felt I *should* grow them. That they were somehow standards in a home garden. This year, I grew radishes. Guess what? I HATE RADISHES.
I’ve also grown strawberries, but guess what? They take up a lot of space and I’d rather grow other things in that space. Besides that, I have one container devoted to raspberries already (which I much prefer), and I was able to forage for tons of blackberries this summer for FREE. Next year? I won’t be growing strawberries.
So what has brought me pleasure?
I never tire of watching the first spring peas shoot up, their little tendrils looking to cling to a trellis…
And even though they do take up lots of space, I adore having a small raspberry patch that I can hunt through in mid-July for a sweet treat…
I love cutting a handful of fresh herbs knowing I’ve not spent a ton of money…and I love the scent it leaves on my skin. On a warm day, I like to walk through the garden and take a deep breath…and take in the smell of sage or oregano.
Sometimes the plants that give you the most pleasure to grow will contradict some of the other ideas I’ve mentioned about deciding what to grow. And I think that’s alright. Next year I plan on growing popcorn, and while a bit impractical, I’m looking forward to the adventure with my children. There is some value in growing food just for the adventure of it!
I’d love to hear what you’ve grown in your garden this year and what you plan on growing next year. What other thoughts would you offer on how to decide what to grow?