In the deep winter, there's nothing like a nice hot bowl of butternut squash chili to ward off the cold.
There are all kinds of reasons to plant a particular vegetable: abundance (zucchini), nutrition (Swiss chard), cut it and it grows back (lettuce), speed (arugula, green peas, radish), tastiness (tomatoes, watermelon), variety (there’s so much, like cucamelons, that you won’t find in your supermarket), and so on. But how do you narrow your gardening priorities?
My husband and I are adventurous gardeners. We’re always interested in trying something new. So we’ve tried artichokes, kiwano melons, amaranth, flint corn, popcorn, celeriac, tomatillos, ground cherries—just to name a few. We’ve grown as many as fifty different vegetables and fruits in one season, all for family eating.
We have our favorites: Swiss chard is a reliable, nutritious, cut-and-come-again crop that grows all season long. We can’t get enough of Christmas lima and scarlet runner beans. The same can be said for asparagus. Butternut squash is tasty, stores easily, and lasts a long time in storage. This year, it was May before we finished off our butternut squash harvest!
But we’ve found there may be just as many reasons to NOT grow certain vegetables as to grow them, aside from what our taste buds like (a good reason in itself). Determining how to eliminate a few vegetables from your overgrown wish list will give you more room to plant what works best for you and your family.
Love-Lies-Bleeding amaranth was fun to grow, but as as a grain crop the yield was too time-consuming and too small.
We love tomatoes, but they don’t love us—at least not our growing season. Our summers are short and wet. If the tomatoes succeed in ripening before frost, which is always an iffy proposition, they’re almost certain to get blight. It’s more cost-effective and less frustrating to get our tomatoes from our local farmers’ market.
Is there anything as delicious as fresh sweet corn to go with those juicy tomatoes? We don’t think so. However, corn can’t stand up to our frequent, high winds. That might not be a problem if we had a huge field of corn where each stalk could protect the other, but we can only grow about three deep. Besides, corn takes up a whole lot of room for not much in the way of harvest. From now on, we’ll rely on the farmers’ market for corn, too.
Too Much Too Fast
Lesse known crops like, tomatillos are exciting to grow, and they’re so tasty in Mexican dishes. But our family of two was overwhelmed at the volume of our harvest—it was just too much to handle. We donated most of them to the local food pantry.
Basket of tomatillos.
Cabbage moths love kale as much as we do. Try as we might—and we’ve tried lots of deterrents—we haven’t found a way to stay ahead of them. We opted to substitute Swiss chard instead. The worms aren’t nearly as fond of chard. And cabbage on the shelf is pretty inexpensive. We could handle that trade-off.
If you have more garden space than you know what to do with, you can experiment to your heart’s content. Otherwise, you have to make choices. As much as we like watermelon (and that’s a whole heck of a lot), the vines take up far more space than we’re willing to give them. Besides, watermelon needs to be eaten fresh, and just how much can two people eat in the few weeks when it’s ripe?
Consider the Pros and Cons
There might be other reasons to choose not to grow a given crop. Maybe it needs too much TLC for the time you have available. Maybe the cost-benefit ratio doesn’t add up.
In deciding what and what not to grow, think about the benefits and challenges each plant brings with it. When you find yourself overwhelmed by all the variety and deliciousness in those seed catalogues that fill your mailbox, it helps to have a few reasons to eliminate a few of those tempting fruits and veggies.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
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