So the gardening bug has bitten you and you're ready to jump head first into the wonderful world of growing your own veggies. If you're new to gardening you might have a lot of questions about where to begin. One of the biggest questions you may have is about deciding what to grow. Let me share a few pointers to help you on your way.
Evaluate Your Space
You can dream of planting a garden all day long, but if you don't first take into account what space you're working with, then you're going to end up with disappointment. Do you have an apartment with a patio? A small back yard that would be great for containers? A medium sized yard where you can dedicate to small patch of earth or a raised bed? A larger yard with a lot of size to grow whatever you'd like?
Once you've determined the size of garden you're working with, you should then evaluate your light source. Most vegetables are full sun plants which means they need to be in the direct sunlight for six hours of the day. My yard would be an example of this. We're mostly hilly and sloped but I could have worked with that...except that I found out that the sunlight is only in a small portion of my yard for six full hours. Where we're on the edge of the forest we get quite a bit of shade through most of the day. Great for enjoying the yard, not so great for planting vegetables. Be sure to evaluate your sunshine in the late spring and summer months. (In the winter, I thought my backyard would be great for planting but when spring hit and the trees filled in, the shade overtook all of that area.)
What do you eat?
You don't want to dedicate a spot of your garden to cabbage or broccoli if no one in your house eats them. They might look beautiful growing in your garden but it is a waste of time if you won't have a use for them when they're grown. One tip I have is to write down your typical produce purchases. If you almost always find yourself buying lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers then those would be the top choice of what you'd want to plant.
Once you have a general idea of what you typically buy, look into how much space a plant takes up. Smaller plants such as carrots and onions can be planted closer together. However, big items like corn, pumpkins, and watermelons need a fairly large amount of space per plant. If you try to grow them closer you run the inevitable risk of stunting them and not getting the produce you could or none at all.
Yield- One Shot or Continually
When you're considering your garden plan, take into account how much each plant yields. Some plants only produce one item per plant. Examples of these are corn, onions, carrots, cabbages, etc. I call these one shot plants because they produce, you pick and they are done.
The flip side of this is the continually producing plants. Examples of these are tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans. These are the plants that will continue to produce through the growing season. If your space is limited, I would almost always gravitate toward growing continual growth plants because you get more bang for your buck. That doesn't mean you can't grow a row of carrots but you might want to better utilize the space. Think how important a row of about 10 or 20 carrots is compared to three plants of constantly producing tomatoes.
Ease of Producing
The last thing you should consider when planning you garden is the ease of care. There are some plants that do not do as well unless very meticulously cared for in a very specific way. Some are picky and if you don't do it just right they won't do anything. One example of this for me is corn. The first time I planted corn I planted on a slope, a heavy rain knocked them over, they stunted at knee high. The second time, raccoons got into them, the third time I had a smaller garden and planted too close (another knee high production). I just now tried them again last year in my raised garden and for some reason they stunted at knee high again. I think unless I move to a place with a larger plot, I'm going to hold off on the corn because it is a huge amount of space dedication for such a tricky (for me) plant.
One of the easiest plants to grow is (pole) green beans. You provide them a trellis or something to grow up and they will continue to produce throughout the entire season as long as you stay on top of them and do not leave any bean pods on the vine to die (this signals to the plant that it's done for the year).
One of the fastest and greatest yielding plants is yellow squash. You can literally go visit your garden every day and find at least one new squash ready to pick. They grow fast and somewhat easy. The same can be said for cucumbers. I once was going through a drought and thought that all of my garden was dead or dying. I went out a week later and the fence that I had planted them on was overrun with cucumbers. I had buckets and buckets full!
Now that you know the main things to consider when planning what to plant in your garden, head over to my post about the three ways to start a garden and check out the next step.