Friday, May 10, 2013

What to Plant?

With limited space and resources we all go through the process of trying to decide what to plant now that the gardening season is upon us.  Inevitably, most novice up to expert gardeners put in tomatoes, whether in pots or gardens.  After that, it seems there are many choices being made.  How do we decide what to plant or what not to plant?

Here's the process I follow:  The number one deciding factor is what I like to eat.  Pretty obvious, of course.  But, it may be more complicated than simply I like it, therefore I shall plant it.  For example, tomatoes freshly grown, picked right off the plant in your own back yard are so much more tasty than anything you will ever buy.  Same with herbs of any kind.  The flavors are unsullied by transportation, washing, or early harvesting.  The freshest of flavors possible!

The second deciding factor goes along with the first.  I like to eat it, but how much of it can I actually plant?  How much room have I got?  If you really love the taste of a nice fresh tomato right off the vine, but you only have room for a plant or 2, then a high yield producing tasty cherry tomato is your best bet.  But, if you are going to make big batches of salsa, you'll need more plants that yield often and take more space.  If you haven't got the space, then it's best to find yourself a good outside source of tasty tomatoes.  Or, maybe you have pots and can put in some tomatoes or even peppers?  Look into the kinds of plants that like pots and be sure to check soil requirements for each.

Next, I go with nutritional value.  I can plant a row of kale and get more nutrients from that row than most others.  Peppers are another super food that is worth the effort.  Consider taste and your nutritional bang for the buck!

The next factor is ease in growing and yield.  I love edamame or soy beans, but have a terrible time growing them, because someone else (someone short and hairy who steals from gardens at night!) eats my plants before I get a chance to harvest.  Tomatoes can be tricky for some of us - blight or fungi take over before we get to enjoy much of our efforts.  I say let someone else do it and find something else to plant in that case.  Green beans are yummy, plentiful and easy to grow.  Same with chard and kale. All three will yield multiple times throughout the season, so once you harvest, the plant produces more - sometimes up to 3 and 4 times!

That then speaks to investment vs. yield cost ratio, another deciding factor.  If I can throw in a seed, and harvest multiple times from the plant that comes up, that's a great ratio!  If, on the other hand, I am buying a plant, then what will make it worthwhile as far as the harvest to cost of plant ratio?  Then, what if the plant dies or doesn't produce much?  What are the chances of me getting my money back and then some?

Let's go back to that outside source.  It could be a farmers market, CSA, or other resource.  I can buy from the local co-op here for less than the same farmer will sell at the farmer's market.  So, oftentimes I watch for a sale and get things I don't grow then.  a good example is garlic.  Now, a lot of people like to plant garlic.  To me, it is a waste of space.  It is easy to buy year 'round, because it stores well.  I can literally buy it for pennies.  It requires some knowledge and some investment as far as when and how to plant, the cloves, the straw or mulch, etc.  To me, not worth the effort.  Potatoes and corn are others.  Very tricky to grow and other farmers are really good at it.  I let them do the work for me.

My final deciding factor is the curb appeal of the plant itself.  I grew Brussels sprouts one year and while those little guys were tasty, the plant was really pretty ugly.  Broccoli is kind of the same to me.  I don't want to look at it.  Herbs and greens and vines are really beautiful and can be part of my landscape with some planning.

I hope this helps you to expand your ideas and your garden planning!

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