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How to choose vegetables for your garden

 
gardener
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Have You Decided What to Plant in Your Garden Yet?

The last couple weeks I have been getting seed catalogs in the mail. I really love looking through the seed catalogs at all the great varieties of vegetables. But how do I know which to ultimately plant in my garden?

This question inspired this week's blog post - How to Choose the Right Vegetables to Plant in Your Garden.

Figuring out which vegetables to plant in your garden is key to getting abundant harvests. If you have been gardening for years you likely already have a system in place to choose what to grow based on experience, and observation - plus a bit of growing what you like to grow!

But if you are relatively new to gardening you may struggle to decide which vegetables to grow and which to not - they all look so interesting! Plus there are always new varieties catching our attention!

This is where my blog post comes in. I wrote it to serve as a guide for someone relatively new to gardening who is struggling to decide which vegetables to choose for their garden. If that sounds like you then this blog post can help get your garden going.

The blog post this week focuses on answering 3 guiding questions that will help you pick which vegetables to choose for your garden.

Blog Post Sections

- What Vegetables Do You and Your Family Eat?
- What Vegetables Grow Well in Your Area?
    - The First Piece of the Puzzle – Eliminating Plants That Definitely Won’t Grow Well
    - Making the calculations
    - The Final Piece of the Puzzle – Identifying the Plants that Will Grow Well
    - Understanding your Hot and Cool-Weather Plants
- What Vegetables Do You Like to Grow?
- Choosing the Right Vegetables to Plant in Your Garden

So, what are you going to grow this year in your garden? How did you decide which vegetables to grow? Please leave a comment and don't forget to check out my blog post. If you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

In the rest of this thread I'm going to give an overview of the steps listed in this blog post for answering the second question - What vegetables grow well in your area?

Basic Steps to Determine Which Vegetables Grow Well in Your Area



Trying to figure out which vegetables grow well in your area can be a challenge - there are just so many types and varieties! To keep from having to look at all these various types of vegetables I recommend that you first list the vegetables that you and your family use on a regular basis.

This should give you a manageable list of vegetables as a starting point.

Your list may include vegetables that don't grow in your area. For example there are hot peppers that just won't produce in my area. So the first step is to figure out which vegetables from your starting list won't grow or produce in your area.

Those can be crossed out.

In general I look at the days to maturity for the vegetables and see if my growing season is long enough. Though there are a lot of warm weather loving vegetables like hot peppers that just don't do well despite my growing season technically being long enough.

My blog post expands on this basic calculation by taking into account the fact that some vegetables can be planted before the last frost date and some vegetables need to be planted after the last frost date. This is done by using some free online tools and a spreadsheet based tool that I developed that will tell you if a vegetable will probably grow in your area or will not grow in your area.

Here are the basic steps outlined in the blog post:

Step 1: Determine your growing season and your first and last frost dates.

Step 2: Look up the recommended planting date for each vegetable that you like to cook or eat.

Step 3: While you’re at it, mark each of these vegetables as either hot weather or cool weather plants (You’ll need to know this for the next step).

Step 4: Look up the days to maturity (online or from a seed catalog) for each vegetable.

Step 5: Check to see if there are enough days starting on the recommended planting date (step 2) for each vegetable to reach maturity (step 4) before the first frost (step 1).

Once you go through these 5 steps you can cross off any vegetables from your list that won’t have enough time to reach maturity.

One Final Fuzzy Step to Determine Which Vegetables Grow Well in Your Area



I tried to figure out a nice logical and numerical approach to deciding which vegetables would grow well in your area. But nature tends to be a bit more messy than that.

You will need to take into account the fuzzy sides of your area's climate. What are your springs like? What about late summer?

In my area it can stay very wet and cloudy through May and even into June. September can also be very wet. Some years (like 2018) can be very dry during these times but often May, and September are wet months.

This means that warm weather vegetables like tomatoes can be a bit iffy. I still grow them but there is no guarantee that I will get a good harvest.

Because of this I tend to choose varieties that reach maturity quickly like cherry tomatoes.

What about your area? What is your May/September weather like and how does it impact your garden? Please leave a comment with your answer to these questions.

If you are new to gardening I recommend crossing off any vegetables that seem questionable. Stick with the ones that are more likely to do well - this will help you stay motivated and excited about gardening.

Which Vegetables Are You Going to Grow?



What about you? Which vegetables are you going to grow?

I'm still figuring out my vegetable list for my garden but here are the ones I will most likely grow:
- Green beans (climbing type)
- Tomatoes
- Onions
- Greens (Swish chard, miners lettuce, lettuce, orach, kale, arugula)
- Zucchini
- Snap peas
- Broccoli
- Carrots

Plus a mix of perennial vegetables - my goal is to grow more and more perennial vegetables each year and steadily decrease my annual vegetables.

Please leave a comment in this thread and don't forget to check out my blog post mentioned in this thread. If you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

Thank you!
 
pollinator
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I mostly try to grow our favorite things to eat or things I am trying to improve in our diet.  Like greens. We have been trying to add to our day five to six days a week, so I am growing a lot more now. Chard is a favorite since I can plant in early spring and it keeps going until frost. I also set aside a section to over winter since it is biennial. I can get some earlier greens and have started saving seed although those havent turned out too well yet.

We are big tomato users. I usually have a grape or cherry for snacking, paste type for sauces and freezing, and slicers. Always cherokee purple and one or two others.  I have tried different ones like flame and green zebras just to have something new as space allows.

As far as permanent beds, there are the herbs (oregano, sage-looking bad, mint, catnip, rosemary-also loking bad, cilantro-amazing self seeder) which I plan to enlarge.  I also have asparagus, blueberries, blackberries, and a permanent area that accidently happened of plainain and lambsquarter.

As far as other annual veg, pole green beans seem to grow better for me. Peas havent done so well, but a friend has a different variety she wants me to try this year.  I grew eggplant for the first time and only got two small fruits, but squash family plants and I cant seem to come to any positive agreements mostly due to squash bugs.  Last year was my first good year with green peppers.  We also plant various lettuces, radishes, arugula, kale, collards, okra.

Our garden starts in March wih greens and radishes. We rotate them with annuals and end with more greens into the winter. I can time and cover things to harvest until December.

This year I am going to experiment with deep cardboard box potato boxes.
 
Daron Williams
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Nice! Thanks Tina for the reply! I really like chard too - it seems to be a very versatile veggie for growing and eating. There are some fun varieties and I have been enjoying trying out different ones. The rainbow chard is fun to have growing in the garden though I really like one that is called perpetual spinach - tends to have smaller leaves.
 
gardener
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Four things you didn't mention:

You don't mention growing what volunteers well, or more accurately, not choosing but letting the garden choose itself what it wants to grow.  Cherry tomatoes and tomatillos are usually the first fruits that emerge in our garden in the spring -- always volunteer.  Thus, they are the first things to be harvested.  I could pull them all out, but since we love them and use them in salads, sauces, salsas and such, (dig that alliteration), I always leave about a dozen of each plant.

Another reason you didn't list  is that many people choose to grow things because the chickens like it.  I"m not crazy about cherimoya or pineapple guava, but the chickens love them, so I keep those around and they produce well every year.  Same with sorrel and borage.  If the girls eat it, I'll let it go to seed and then not pull it up when it comes up volunteer.  I don't eat that many beets, but the chickens absolutely love the greens, and then when the beets are the size of a softball, I'll throw them into the chicken tractor and they'll peck away at it all day.  Cucumbers are good and we eat them, but how many can you realistically eat when you aren't making pickles?  But the chickens go crazy for them -- the bigger the better.  It's a great use of those monster cucumbers that weigh about 2 lbs.

All the plants listed above (sorrel, beets, cucumbers, etc.) are easy seeds to gather.  From one mature beets, you get enough seeds to plant an entire field.  So a third reason to choose certain veggies is for ease of collecting the seeds for future gardens.  That's why I rarely plant hybred seeds.  I want stuff that has proven itself in my climate and that I can collect the seeds from myself.  So a third reason for choosing plants is the ease of growing, collecting and saving seed for next year's garden.

Finally, I choose to grow stuff like peanuts and sweet potatoes because they are so good for the soil.  Peanuts are a cover crop that I grow in between the sweet corn or okra.  Even if I forget to harvest them, they are nitrogen fixing and they serve as a great green mulch to preserve moisture and keep the soil cool.  In the fall, they are extra biomass for the compost pile.  Winner plant.

 
Daron Williams
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Thanks for the reply Marco and you are right the post does not cover everything. I was hoping people like you would share more info! The blog post is really focused on getting someone new to gardening started. Once they get past that step then they can start expanding their growing and getting a bit more complicated.

I think growing things that chickens can eat makes a lot of sense. Saves money and waste and good for the chickens - plus better eggs for you!

I also love volunteers and I plan to write a blog post soon on that topic

Growing plants to improve the soil is another topic just asking for a blog post. I may write a beginners guide to that just covering the basics.

Thanks again for your reply!
 
Tina Hillel
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Marco, thanks for the point about the chickens.  I do give them extra produce and gather weeds for them, but the idea about intentionally growing crops for them is something I need to work on.  I think since I let them free range a good amount, I dont plan for them in the garden like I should. Beets are a great idea.  I hate them, but like the greens.  If I grow them for the chickens, they can have the beets they love and I get the greens.  Double win!
 
Tina Hillel
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Daron, I also like the rainbow chard, but I also grow the plain as a multipurpose crop. I like to substitute the stalks in place of celery and the colorful stalks sometimes give a weird look to other dishes.
 
Daron Williams
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Tina - when you replace celery for chard is that for cooking or raw eating?

How about the rest of you? What are you all planning to grow this year? Have you got your seeds?
 
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I really like that planting tool in your blog post, it seemed really good for the few vegetables I looked at, will be using that soon this spring!

I'm working on getting my seed list together for this year, which is always fun to me!

I'm going to try to do better this year saving seeds from my vegetables for next year, so they will hopefully be better locally adapted and as a bonus will also be free!
 
Daron Williams
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Thanks Steve! I like building my seed list too - always fun

Do you know which vegetables you are going to focus on in terms of saving seed?
 
Steve Thorn
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I'll probably focus mostly on cucumbers and summer squash, since they tend to be out favorites.

I'd like to grow tomatoes to use more for cooking, do you use Cherokee Purple for paste or fresh eating?

I will also probably be growing green beans, peas, peppers, cantaloupe, carrots, greens, onions, garlic, and maybe potatoes.

I was clicking on the vegetable links on that planting tool and found some neat plants! I might try some Chinese yardlong beas, it says they thrive in warm areas, and I've noticed our climate is similar to eastern China, and things from there tend to do well here, so that should be interesting!
 
Tina Hillel
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Daron, I use the chard stalks instead of celery both raw and in cooked dishes.  It does have a stronger taste than celery raw, but I like it. I probably mostly used it cooked.

Steve, I mostly eat the Cherokee Purple fresh. I have used them in sauce when I was short on paste tomatoes, but it took a lot longer to cook down.  They are also good dehydrated. I like to put crushed pieces over scrambled eggs in particular and they are good rehydrated in dressings when no fresh ones are in season.  I have to hide them because my husband can and will mow through them like chips!
 
Daron Williams
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I have been working on my own list of vegetables that I want to plant this year and debating where to order my seeds from.

Last year I got a bunch of seeds from Wild Garden Seed: http://www.wildgardenseed.com/

They breed their own plant varieties and really seem to be trying to bring diversity back to our seed stocks.

Where do you all get seeds?
 
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My list includes food for pigs, ducks chickens and dogs as well as ourselves, working on the systen developed by Carol Deppe in her book, the resilient gardener.  I have sloping trellases for dried bean that point into the sun, allowing vegetables grown as sister guilds in front and behind with no shading, whilst the beans dangle in the sunlight for easy drying. Anything more  specialised goes in the raised beds and polytunnel nearer the house for ease of picking. Potatoes go in swales so the don't take up extra room while comfrey for mulching and aninal fodder stabilise the berms and masses of rhubarb circle our fruit trees as mineral accumulators and .......rhubarb pie!  Thats the plan.....
 
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Another thing in addition to length of growing season and climate that can limit what vegetables you can grow are the local pests and diseases.  Here in upstate SC, squash bugs make it practically impossible to grow any of the maxima or pepo winter squashes, since they all die before even getting close to maturing fruit, limiting me to just the moschata and mixta squashes.  There is also a leaf miner that riddles the leaves of any wild or domestic purslane, killing them (needless to say, purslane is not a weed that can be found growing around here). Also flea beetles make it useless to try to grow the leafy amaranthes or komatsuna during the summer.  Komatsuna makes a great winter crop when the beetles aren't active.  My local "soft rock when dry" soils make it difficult for any burrowing mammals to make a living around here, but in my previous location in western NC, voles made it difficult to grow carrots and other root crops.

Here in upstate SC, fava beans make a great manure crop, but our hot spring weather makes the bean crop very iffy.  Likewise scarlet runner beans produce lots of flowers, but few beans.  The hot summers kill beets and cole crops, limiting their use to the cooler portions of the year.
 
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The blog post could be great advice for experienced gardeners in a new climate as well.  Even though I've been gardening as long as I can remember, when I relocated to a different climate everything I think I know seems to work against my plantings.  We'll probably try to pare down this year to only grow things that we use a lot or at least have grown decently for us in the past.  Things that have done well in past years include fava beans and spinach.  We've been trying to get a perennial spinach, but last year places that claimed to carry the seed were out of stock.  In the meantime, we're hoping that our spinach from last year has successfully self seeded.  We planted garlic in the fall as a frequently used vegetable and will try no-dig potatoes this year, hoping that we have more success than our buried potatoes last year.  It's hard to resist growing all the things, especially now that we have space for it, but I think I need go small to reset my bearings.
 
Tina Hillel
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I used to get my seeds from a local nursery, but they closed shop last year.  I was using leftover seeds and filling in with seeds from tractor supply.

This year I will be getting seeds from Uprising Seeds (located in WA) as their seeds are organic and they work for sustainable growing. I have used their seeds in the past and been happy with them, but had been trying to support the one local small guy place we had here.  Some seeds I will get from the Ace Hardware store that has a small line of organic seeds mostly because I want to encourage the store to keep carrying those type of products.  

Some seeds I have of my own that I tried saving. I will probably chicken out and still buy them in case mine don't turn out.  I can just call it comparison testing so I don't feel bad for wimping out and not trusting my plants.😉
 
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Another thing to consider when choosing which vegetable varieties to plant is: What are the limiting factors in your garden? For instance, I just built a garden that will have quite a bit of shade. It will get sun, but not all day sun. This will make some plants grow a little slower, so I have chosen varieties with short days to maturity, as well as varieties that like some shade, and varieties that like growing in the cool seasons.

There are a couple of sunny spots in the garden, and there is also a sunny greenhouse, so I can plant peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers, as well as some of the sun loving herbs.

Other limiting factors could be a shortage of water, soil, or time.

If water is an issue, choose varieties that are drought resistant.

If soil is an issue, choose varieties that grow well in your soil type, until you get your soil healthy and ready to grow other varieties.

If time is an issue, plant things that don’t need lots of attention - potatoes are a good choice, or long season things like squash, or peas and beans for drying.

I have been having lots of fun going through the seed catalogs looking for veggies, herbs, and flowers that will grow well in this new garden. As this is a new garden, I’m going to try lots of different things, to see which will do the best. Then I’ll know what to plant next year. Plus, I always plant lots of support species like flowers and herbs that will reseed.

Beans
Broccoli
Broccoli Raab (rapini)
Leeks
Green onion
Arugula
Oregano
Thyme
Peas
Maché
Claytonia
Calendula
Beets
Celery
Lettuce
New Zealand Spinach
Lemon Balm
Lovage
Liquorice
Savory
Chervil
Parsley
Carrots
Turnips
Kale
Radish
Spinach
Purslane
Mustards
Cilantro
Sweet Alyssum
Cosmos
Wildflower mixes
Zucchini
Basil
Yarrow
Borage
Dill
Chives
Garlic chives
Sorrel
Chard

Greenhouse

Peppers
Tomatoes
Cucumber

Happy gardening everyone!
 
Daron Williams
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Great comments - thanks all!

Amanda - sounds like you have a great setup. Any chance you could share a picture of your garden? I'm curious what your setup looks like.

Mike - Great point about pests. While I do believe it is possible to setup your garden to minimize pests overtime it is not a silver bullet and it makes a lot of sense that there just might be some vegetables that are too much work to grow because of pests. Though I would want to try to see what I could do to reduce the pest damage - I wrote a blog post covering some of ideas on the issue of pests in the garden if you are interested.

I still have issues with slugs and aphids. It seems like it is becoming less of an issue in the growing areas where I have setup habitats for predators but I'm not where I want to be. My homestead is fairly new and the previous owners did nothing to take care of the land so I'm having to rebuild the fertility and habitat.

M. Crex - Thank you and I do hope the blog post would be helpful for gardeners in a new climate. I had a similar issue moving from eastern WA to western WA. Easter WA has fairly cold winters (ground fully freezes) and hot summers. This area is much more mild and the ground never freezes. Lot of perks to that but new pests and winter is less of a reset here than in eastern WA.

Tina - Sorry to hear about the local nursery closing. Always sad when that happens. I have heard of Uprising Seeds but have not ordered from them yet. I might have to give them a try - they sound good. Thanks for mentioning them!

Tracy - Very true! I may have to write a blog post about various limiting factors. That is kinda the next step in the process and it would make a good standalone blog post. Thanks for mentioning it! Also, great list of plants! Looks like you will have a lot of good produce!

Thanks all!

 
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Daron Williams wrote:
I still have issues with slugs and aphids. It seems like it is becoming less of an issue in the growing areas where I have setup habitats for predators but I'm not where I want to be. My homestead is fairly new and the previous owners did nothing to take care of the land so I'm having to rebuild the fertility and habitat.



I truly believe that "pest problems" are entirely due to growing plants under less than optimum conditions.  So as you develop your homestead, these "pests" (which are just indicators of less than optimum conditions) will gradually reduce to a baseline population which won't cause problems.
 
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Tracy Wandling wrote:
Happy gardening everyone!



Mache is a new one for me this year, recommended by a good friend, and I'm really looking forward to it! I thought miner's lettuce (claytonia) was a failure last year because it grew a bit in spring and then died in a pretty extreme-looking way, but it's come back full force this year, so I'm pretty sure I could set up a self-sustaining patch of it with not much work. Winter-friendly greens are always good in my book.
 
Tracy Wandling
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Oh, I think you'll like it. So tasty. And I love it because I can eat it all winter here. And claytonia is a great one for getting a perennial greens garden going. Add in some chickweed, wild arugula, and sorrel, and you've got a ready made salad! :)
 
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