With limited space, time and money, I want an optimal, seasonal yield from my cool climate garden. No matter where I live or how much room I have, the garden is a significant part of my daily life. It also provides an opportunity for appreciation of God’s provision.
Most vegetables are beyond comparison for taste if you grow them yourself. However, some take up garden space for a very long time or, if the season is too short for heat-loving plants, you may end up being disappointed with the crop.
Everyone can grow something, even if it is only sprouts on the kitchen bench. Everything you grow yourself makes you more self-reliant and can reduce your potential chemical exposure.
Those folk fortunate enough to have a greenhouse (especially one with some form of warmth) can extend their growing season considerably in some cases.
I don’t have a greenhouse so this is the criteria I use to determine what to plant in my garden. Ponder these considerations within your own context and growing zone. I have included a few of my own examples.
- Does it grow well in my zone?
Only fast crops of tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, melons etc ripen or mature for me. Even then, the cool humidity puts them at greater risk of disease. I only put in a few plants for immediate blissful eating, not to store. I just don’t have the space to potentially waste. Of course, every now and then, you might get a bumper crop as a result of an extended period of lovely weather. In that case, thank God for the crop and preserve what you can.
For the most part, though, there seems little point trying and trying to grow something that just doesn’t thrive in your garden.
- What frozen, dried or tinned foods are cheaper to buy than grow?
For me, dried beans, grains and legumes are way cheaper to buy as well as frozen cauliflower, peas, corn, brussels sprouts. Tinned tomatoes, pineapple, beans, legumes, and asparagus are better value for my time and space too. I have a couple of olive trees but they are unlikely to provide all our needs. Bottled olives are on my shopping list.
- It grows well here but how long does it take to grow?
Cauliflowers, large cabbages, storage onions all grow well in my district.
But I don’t give them priority because they take up space for a long time.
So do other plants, but they are better value, which brings me to the next point:
- Can the whole plant be eaten or used?
Of course, you can compost any of your spent vegetable plants. However, I give priority growing space to those with the most edible parts – even the ones that take up space for a long time such as:
- Does it grow well in my zone?
My favorite cool climate vegetable is garlic. I plant it very close together in rows, thinning it out as it grows. First I use the shoots, then the slightly swollen bulbs as green garlic when it just starts to bulb up.
By the time the bulbs really start to swell as the weather warms, the remaining garlic is spaced well to encourage large bulbs. By that time we’ve been eating fresh garlic for months already!
Any garlic not eaten, dried or planted by the time it’s ready to sprout again in autumn, gets brined and hot smoked in a makeshift smoker – the wok. I’ve only just started doing this and found that hot smoked garlic lasts a couple of months or so in the fridge.
It makes little flowering side shoots for a long time. Additionally, you can eat the leaves as greens. Has anyone tried making little savory rice rolls (similar to dolmades) out of broccoli or other brassica leaves?
Beetroot and Carrots:
Quite fast growing. The tops are also useful as steamed or salad greens and in soups. I make pesto out of carrot leaves and it’s not too bad.
Excellent value for space. It produces lush leaves until it flowers and goes to seed. The flowers are among the best beneficial insect attractors. Then you can collect the seeds. First green seeds to add to salads and soups, then after the seeds have dried on the plant, they can be used as a cooking spice. When I eventually pull the plant out, the root is scrubbed and used to flavor stock.
Other “cut and come again” greens:
Lettuce, Asian vegetables, spinach, chard, rocket, celery, kale, and many others all keep producing leaves until they eventually go to seed. As a bonus, some seed is suitable for saving and sprouting after you’ve eaten all that leaf produce.
Fast growing veggies:
Radish is a great value for everything vegetable. It grows very fast and there are winter varieties, that if planted at the right time, will overwinter in your garden, to be used as you want until the warm weather arrives and they eventually bolt to seed. Collect the seed for sprouting before adding the spent plant to the compost heap. Young leaves are tasty in salads, as steamed greens, and in soups.
Radish also has a surprisingly beneficial nutrient profile.
Asian greens and rocket are other examples of speedy vegetables.
Truly a survival food. Foraging is growing in popularity. There are many edible “weeds” that we like to include in our diet. There are also lots of books and websites to help identify edible and poisonous plants. One good thing about edible “weeds” is that most of them self seed. They will always be in your garden happily cohabitating with your fruit and vegetables.
Dandelion is my favorite “weed”. The young, tender, slightly bitter leaves are excellent steamed with other greens and in salads. They also have medicinal properties.
When the dandelion plant gets a bit old, especially after flowering, we chop off all the old bitter leaves and new tender ones emerge from the root again.
Eventually, the root can be dug up, scrubbed, roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. Caffeine free and delicious! Other edible weeds in my garden are chickweed (for salads), sheep sorrel (adds a citrus tang to salads), milk or sow thistle, amaranth, nettle, fat hen, to name a few. Here are some great ways to eat your weeds!
- Invest in perennials
Can be slow to establish but generally low maintenance. Just keep them fed and mulched in their “permanent” bed… They stay in the same spot for some years and can share a bed with a few fast annuals like radish and lettuce that won’t interfere with their growth.. Asparagus, globe artichoke, bramble berries, rhubarb, horseradish are all examples of edible perennials.
- Do I have any “Volunteers”?
Edible weeds are in this category but also a few others. Potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, peas from pea straw, and anything that germinates from the compost bin. Tomatoes are some of best examples. They germinate from compost when they are ready, they usually grow very vigorously and yield a surprisingly good crop – especially the cherry and bush varieties.
We purchase spent mushroom compost in autumn and spread it on the garden. One year we had such a yield of volunteers that we had bottles and bottles of dried sliced and ground mushrooms for the pantry! Be careful with field mushrooms though. Make sure you can identify them and rule out any poisonous ones.
So – don’t be too hasty to weed out volunteers. Assess their potential worth first!
- Invest in perennials
A few final points:
- Most people can eat a varied diet of fruit, vegetable, and foraged foods without concern. Do your research about the nutrient profiles of the foods you eat in a balanced diet and plant to provide a variety of nutrients. Check with your doctor if there are any foods that may interfere with the medications you take.
- Ensure you have the resources and knowledge to identify edible wild foods. There are some that can kill you like certain mushrooms and others like this one: http://wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/food/poisonousplants/waterhemlock/index.html
- Don’t forage for food in places contaminated with chemicals, exhaust fumes, peeling lead paint or dog/cat droppings. Be careful what you put in your compost.
- You can make the most of any growing space you have from pots on a balcony or sunny window to a backyard patch by assessing the value for space, time and money of the edible plants you can grow.
- Share your experiences with others. Teach the little ones especially where food comes from, how to grow it and how to find it.
God bless your gardening efforts!