Once you’ve decided that you want to grow your own crops, you need to figure out what you plant in your vegetable garden.
While it may sound simple, the answer is not that straightforward.
That’s because in addition to what you like to eat, you need to consider where you live, the climate in your locale, the space you have and the kind of soil your yard have.
Below, I’ll show you the different options that will help you decide what you should plant in your vegetable garden. And how to decide which crops are best suited for where you live.
What Should You Plant In Your Vegetable Garden?
Which crops should you grow in your vegetable garden?
Here’s how to decide.
Are You Going to Eat/Cook it Fresh or Store It for Later?
Are you going to eat or cook it soon after you harvest it? Or, do you plan on harvesting a lot of it then store it via freezing, drying or preserving.
And in some cases, you may sell them as well as your garden gets bigger.
How Much Do You Need to Grow?
What you plan on doing with the vegetables will, in part, determine how much you need or are going to plant. If you have a big family to feed, then you’ll need to grow more. Similarly, if you plan on storing them for a while, you’ll likely grow more crops as well.
In addition to how much you’re growing, do consider variety as well. Not all tomatoes are alike. Just like there are tons of different varieties of carrots you can choose from.
So, the question is, are you going to plant the same kind, or a variety of each vegetable?
Can you grow it?
This one is a little bit trickier than the previous ones. That’s because it’s not totally in your power. Just because you want to grow something doesn’t necessarily mean you can grow it.
A lot depends on where you live and the climate your area has, which you’ll learn more about below.
Whether you live in a cold or warm climate can affect which crops you can grow. Similarly, how harsh and how long your winters are will also affect when you can plant and what you can grow.
Here’s a quick chart of vegetable seed germination. It includes frost tolerance, ideal soil temperature for germination, days to germination and days to maturity.
If you’re looking to start your vegetable from seed this will give you some basic information to begin with.
How Much Space Does It Take Up?
You probably already know that some vegetables are bigger than others. As such, it’s important to consider how much space you have in your garden (and containers).
Large veggies like pumpkins as well as other vining crops need a lot of space. As such, you use up a lot of areas that yield only a few crops.
Similarly, small ones can be a problem too. Peas for example are great because they’re small and you can do a lot with them in the kitchen. But, from experience, you’ll rarely grow enough of them to eat. As such, you’re better off picking up a bag from the grocery store.
How Difficult is it to Grow?
Not all vegetables, or plants for that matter, are the same. Some are easy to grow. Thus, they aren’t too picky about their conditions. Others are low maintenance. So, there’s not a lot of work involved.
But, some need a lot of special care or attention. Corn, for example, is delicious. But, it can be a headache to grow because of the problems that come with it, be it disease or insects.
As such, you’ll need to decide whether a specific plant you want to grow is well worth your time and effort.
Is It Practical/Economical to Do So?
Just because you can grow them yourself doesn’t mean you should. The common thought is that growing your own food is cheaper than buying it from the supermarket.
But, that’s not always true.
Some vegetables are cheaper in the store. And, if they take up a lot of space in your garden only to produce small yields, they may not be worth it.
Add to that the time and work you put into caring for them. Then, it might be “cheaper” just to pick them up at the grocery or Farmer’s market
A couple of examples are potatoes and corn. Both take up a lot of space in your garden. And, they’re fairly inexpensive to buy.
Considering you have limited space in your garden, you might be better off growing microgreens, herbs or smaller vegetables like asparagus or endives.
As a reference, here’s chart that shows vegetable planting depth and spacing if you decide to grow them in your garden.
This will help you decide which vegetables are ideal for the garden space you have.
How Much Vegetables Do You Want to Grow?
One of the things you’ll experience a few times in growing your vegetable garden is estimating incorrectly.
I’ll be frank. Unless you’ve got some experience under your belt, you’ll likely end up not knowing how many seeds to plant to get what you need.
In my case, I wasn’t also sure how much I needed. I knew I wanted some food for the family. But, I didn’t plan on storing, freezing or drying them.
As such, I planted way too little.
In fact, I remember laughing at myself when I saw how few the peas were. They weren’t enough to fill a plate for a family of 4 to share. Not even close.
Sadly, the only way to learn how much you need is to plan, do some research online and experiment.
Deciding What to Plant
- What you like to eat. This is by far the most important component when choosing what to plant. As a home grower, you’re going to eat what your grow. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to spend time and effort growing something no one will eat. The only exception is, if you’re growing to sell them.
This may or may not influence your decision on which vegetables to plant. But it will help you plan ahead.
Below is a seed viability chart. It shows how many years vegetable seeds are viable.
This way you can store them ahead or time if needed to plant ahead.
Hybrid vs. Heirloom vs. Open Pollinated Vegetables
These are 3 terms that you’ve probably heard. The most popular of which is probably heirloom which is commonly seen with tomatoes.
But, the question is, what do they really mean?
Here’s a breakdown of each of them so you know what their varieties, seeds and vegetable refer to.
- Hybrid Vegetables. Hybrid can refer to plants, vegetables and their seeds. These come about when you cross two different groups of plants (of the same kind). In gardening, cross happens when the pollen (male gametophyte) of one plant fertilizes the flower of a similar plant. Hybrids are often more productive and vigorous.
- Open Pollinated Vegetables. Open-pollinated varieties are often “true breeds”. That is 2 similar plant species are bred to produce seeds that will grow into plants that are similar to its parents. They’re somewhat the opposite of hybrids. And, before people started crossing, open pollination was the standard. The benefit of doing it is that they produce better flavor and are actually more diverse. Also, you can save their seeds and replant them (with predictable outcomes).
- Heirloom Vegetables. Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated plants that are at least 50 years old. As such, they’ve been passed down from generation to generation. They’re known for their wide range of colors, flavor and shapes.
- Genetically Modified Vegetables. You’ve likely heard of this one a lot in recent years. Because of their nature, they’re almost always commercially products. These plants have had their DNAs genetically engineered to produce a specific characteristic that isn’t present in the regular variety of that plant.
Cool-Season vs. Warm-Season Vegetables
When it comes to growing vegetables, there are 2 groups you need to know. That’s because some varieties grow better during warm weather and others do well in cooler times.
Cool-season vegetables grow well during colder temperatures. In fact, many of these are hardy enough to survive winter (freezing) temperatures.
As such, they’re often planted:
- During early spring (so they mature before the hot summer comes)
- Late in summer to Early in the Fall (so they mature in late fall till early winter)
If you live on the west coast especially in cities where summers stay cool and winters are very mild, you can grow them all year round.
But, if you live in other areas where frost and freezing temperatures come during wintertime, it’s important to know which vegetables can and can’t survive frost.
Cool Season Vegetables That Can Withstand Frost
- Brussels Sprouts
Cool Season Vegetables That Can’t Withstand Frost
Unlike most plants that thrive in warm climates, cool-season vegetables don’t like hot temperatures. As such, it’s not a good idea to force them to grow during these times.
If you do, you’ll notice unpleasant results like pea not filling their pods and green leafy vegetables with tough, bitter-tasting leaves.
Warm Season vegetables are the opposite of cold season vegetables. Thus, they like growing during the summer months.
Since they like the warm air and soil, trying to get ahead by planting them while it’s still cool isn’t a good idea.
For one, frost and colder temperatures will kill them. When the climate isn’t freezing but just cold, it could still stunt their growth.
So, growing them in spring after the frost has gone is a good option.
If you live where the sun is up 365 days a year, then you’ll be able to enjoy them all year round.
Warm Season Vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet Corn
Watering Your Vegetable Garden
In general, vegetables need regular watering. But for each vegetable, there’s something called a critical watering period.
This is when the vegetable needs sufficient amount of water.
Below is a chart that shows you the critical watering times for the common vegetables.
When to Harvest Vegetables
Harvesting is payoff time!
It is when you’ll reap the rewards of your efforts. And you’ll be able to enjoy fresh produce you know does not contain any additives or chemicals.
This chart shows how many days it takes for different vegetables to reach maturity. And what to look for to know it is time to harvest the vegetable.
How Long Can You Store Vegetables
Unless you eat a lot of veggies or feed a big family, there’s a chance that you won’t finish all your harvest in one day or even two.
Therefore, an important thing to consider before you plant them in your garden is how long can you store the vegetables after harvesting.
Here’s a chart that shows the optimal way to store each vegetable, in what temperature and humidity to make them last fresh longer.
Also, it includes how long you can store that vegetable in these conditions.
And just in case you were wondering if there are other ways to store vegetables,
Here’s a companion chart that tells you what methods you storage you can use for the different types of vegetables.