#VictoryGarden: What Should You Grow?

How do you decide what to grow?!

Well, if you’re like me: you don’t. You just make more and bigger gardens to fit all the plants you plan to cram into it until there are no more varieties left.

If only that were true. It would make buying seeds much easier, but alas, even those of us with truly massive gardens need to choose.

Crack open any seed catalogue, or pull up the website of your favourite seed supplier (William Dam Seeds) and you’ll quickly realize the truly overwhelming volume of options available to you. And even after you’ve decided to plant lettuce, but not potatoes, and beets, but not kale, you’ve got more choices in deciding which varieties of those vegetables to grow because, as you’ll soon learn, not all varieties are created equal.

We’ve already covered where to put your garden, and how to decide how much garden space you’ve got time to keep, now it’s time to figure out what you’re going to fill it with.

The first thing to consider is growing season – what can we grow here – we’re lucky in that we can grow, in a good year, almost any of the choices that will be available to you through one of Ontario’s wonderful seed houses. But some things – melons, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts – take longer to grow and require conditions to be just right, and so, if your garden cannot withstand a failure or two, I would suggest steering clear of giving them too much space.

Other things, like potatoes, corn, and pumpkins, have other considerations: corn and pumpkins take a lot of space to reap much harvest, and potatoes suffer from being dirt cheap in the store so often are not financially feasible to grow in the small scale of a home garden (beyond a few hills for “new” potatoes).

And then there are the cucumbers, squashes, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower that are pest magnets that may turn into too much of a nuisance in your garden if you catch a plague. But they’re also very rewarding if you can keep them healthy and productive.

And now that I’ve thrown down the doom and gloom, it’s time to get to it.

There are some no-brainers when it comes home gardening: beets, carrots, Swiss chard, lettuce (and greens), beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, onions, radishes, turnip, kale, and zucchini(*). I’m sure I’ve left a few others out, but these are the mainstays.

* I’m just going to mention that I separate zucchini from the other squashes for the sake of pests because it grows so fast that (in my experience) it is almost foolproof as far as at least getting some harvest for your effort.

Consider the space they take up:
– Large: Tomatoes, zucchini
– Medium: herbs, peppers, beans, peas, Swiss chard
– Small: beets, onions, radishes, turnip
– Tiny: lettuce, carrots, onions

Since plants don’t fall neatly into these categories there are going to be some exceptions, but this is where you can start. Thinking about tomatoes, where you’ll want 2′ in between plants, down to lettuce and carrots, which essentially can touch right up against each other.

Heirloom cherry tomatoes; with some San Marzanos around the edges.

There are some tricksy things you can do with space if yours is limited, like planting radishes around your baby tomatoes because they’ll be long gone by the time the tomato plants are fully grown (24 days to maturity, versus 70+), or using trellises to grow things like cucumbers and squash vertically.

Selecting what to grow in the garden takes balancing multiple variables of growing season, space, time, and financial consideration; each of which could be their own very, very long post. But once you set your priorities and limits it should allow you to make the important decisions that are needed to get the most of your garden in fresh produce, experience, and hopefully a little bit of enjoyment, too.

This spring Topsy Farms is leading the charge to encourage people to start their own #VictoryGarden and grow their own produce. I am trying to help them by offering up some tips and tricks to garden success. If you have any questions do not hesitate to ask!

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