January 31, 2011

Starting Seedlings: What to Grow?

One of the biggest hassles of gardening (and also one of the most fun activities) is deciding what to grow and how much to grow of each plant. I can spend hours of dreary winter weather moving around all the hypothetical plants in my garden for the coming year, trying to make them all fit. If you are new to gardening you will probably want to start on the smaller scale and build up the size of your garden each year as you gain confidence and familiarity with each crop. Look through some seed catalogues and see what strikes your interest (and your appetite). Advice on obtaining your seeds will be covered in the next post in this series.

In order to decide what to grow, think about what vegetables you often buy at the grocery store or farmer's market. Assuming those crops can be grown in your area, you could try growing them yourself. If you love fresh salsa, but hate buying the overpriced store-bought stuff, put in a salsa garden (tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro). If you love fresh salads, put in a salad garden (lettuce, arugula, radish, carrot, onion). If you're a steak and potato kind of person, put in a root vegetable garden (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, beets, turnips, garlic). If you love fresh herbs, grow an herb garden (basil, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, chives). The important thing is to grow what you enjoy eating and what you think you'll actually be able to incorporate into your cooking. For example, I don't bother growing winter squash because I'm not a huge fan of eating them (so why waste the space?).

I grow lots and lots of tomatoes because I love fresh salsa and spaghetti sauce.

In terms of deciding how much to grow of any one crop...this is extremely difficult to determine. Trial and error is really the best way to figure this out. Personally, I tend to grow way more than I can eat. I know I will get as much as I could possibly want, plus I'll have enough to give away to friends and sell at the farmer's market.

Here's a rough idea of how to plan the crop quantities for your garden. For each person in your family, you may want a couple square feet of every salad crop, a couple tomato plants, a couple pepper plants, a hill of potatoes, one (or half of one) squash plant, etc. If you have a vegetarian in your family, bump up their quotas. Keep in mind that each gardening year is different. You may have a bumper crop of lettuce one year and a complete failure the next (but usually the extremes aren't quite this extreme).

I understand that it's easy to get overwhelmed (or carried away) with planning your garden. If you are new to gardening, here are some easy vegetables to start with that will most surely be a success:

Onion (from sets)
Summer Squash

Summer squash are very easy to grow. Shown here are pattypan squash (aka scallopini).


  1. For years I've read "Just grow what you love" and pretty much followed that, but I had a real 'Duh' moment----I love acorn squash, but seriously only eat TWO a year. For the space that takes up, I can BUY 2 organic ones at the farmers market. But you sure got that right about tomatoes, etc. It's fun to give some to neighbors and friends.

  2. Good point. Sometimes it makes more sense to buy the things you only need a small quantity of.


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