What to Grow


A lot of times when people begin a vegetable garden, they ask, "What should I grow?"  The answer to this question is simple... kind of.

What do you like to eat?

If you don't like brussel sprouts, don't plant brussel sprouts.  If you love broccoli, plant broccoli.  It literally is that simple.  With that being said,  there are some things to consider, such as the climate, and where you live. 

I live in a desert where we experience about 4" of rainfall every year; this does not mean that certain things won't grow for me but if I want to plant a citrus tree, I'm really going to have to work at it.  As a general rule of thumb, almost everything you plant will grow if given the right care and nutrients.

Hardiness & Heat Zones

When planting, there are two things to consider, the hardiness zone and the heat zone for your area.  In 1960 the US Department of Agriculture created what is known as the Plant Hardiness Zone Map.  The hardiness zone is a geographically defined area in which a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by climatic conditions, including its ability to withstand the average minimum temperatures of the zone.  By locating where you live on the map, you can easily determine which of the 11 major zones you live in.  Knowing your planting zone is helpful in knowing what will grow best in your area.  Most seed catalogues, or my Veggie Index will inform you of each plant's Zone hardiness.

While knowing your region's hardiness zone is informative, it is not always helpful.  Knowing your area's average minimum temperatures is only half the battle.  What about the maximum summer temperatures?  The effects of heat damage are more subtle than those of extreme cold, which will kill a plant instantly. Heat damage can first appear in many different parts of the plant: Flower buds may wither, leaves may droop or become more attractive to insects, chlorophyll may disappear so that leaves appear white or brown, or roots may cease growing. Plant death from heat is slow and lingering.  This is where knowing your heat zones comes into play.

The American Horticulture society developed a Heat Zone Map.  The 12 zones of the map indicate the average number of days each year that a given region experiences "heat days"- temperatures over 86°F; the point at which the plant begins to suffer physiological damage.  Zone 1 consists of areas with less than 1 heat day per year, and Zone 12 areas experience more than 210 heat days. 

Since heat zone ratings are fairly new, they are not listed as regularly in references, catalogs and plant labels as hardiness zones. However, as time progresses, you will see heat zone designations joining the hardiness zone designations. Each plant will have four numbers. For example, a plant might have the designation 3-10, 11-1. The first two numbers refer to hardiness zones and the second two numbers refer to heat zones. So, the plant is cold hardy in zones 3 through 10, and heat tolerant in heat zones 11 through 1.

The Easy Approach

If you're just wanting to know, "Morgan, what are going to be the easiest, most-fool-proof crops I can plant?"  Well, I'll tell you.

  • Leafy greens:  Salad staples like Lettuce, Cabbage and Mustard Greens grow quickly, and you can harvest the outer leaves while the inside leaves are still growing.  These greens prefer cooler weather, and will do well with partial sun and a little bit of shade.
  • Bush Beans and Peas:  such as Green Beans grow very well once they emerge as a seedling.  Although they don't tolerate cold weather very well, they require little attention.
  • Green Onions: these babies tolerate a wide range of cool to warm temperatures making them ideal for any planting season/location.
  • Zucchini and Summer Squash:  These guys are from the same family and are probably the easiest crops to grow.  Once they sprout, they grow like weeds, and one plant is enough to feed an entire family, however they need a little bit of room to grow, at least 12" per plant.
  • Cucumbers: Cucumbers are fairly easy to grow, but they spread out and take up a lot of space.  Using a trellis is a good idea to grow them vertically, saving space.
  • Blackberries:  Blackberries grow like weeds, and because they are a perennial, once you plant them, you'll never have to re-plant them.  They grow in almost all weather conditions, and as long as they get adequate sunlight you'll have to work to keep them under control!
  • Radishes: radishes grow from seed to plate in just over two months!  As long as they have warm weather, and full sun, these are easy-peasy to grow.
  • Carrots:  Small spaces are ideal for growing carrots.  There is usually more shade than sun, and these babies aren't fussy.  While they take a while to grow, once planted, very little needs to be done with them.
  • Raspberries: These berries can grow on a trellis and do well in shady areas.
But what about tomatoes?  Tomatoes, although a staple in every garden, aren't that easy to grow.  They require some care, full sun, and warm temperatures.  In fact, if nighttime temperatures get too cool, the plants will bolt (flower) and they will stop producing fruit.  However, for any small space garden, I recommend a small variety of tomato like grape or cherry tomatoes!

When you find yourself asking, "What should I grow?"  the answer is simple.  Grow what you like.  If you're a stickler for rules, by all means, follow the Zone Hardiness and Heat Zone maps.  However if you like something that isn't congruent with your zones, plant it and see what happens.  That is, afterall, what beginner gardening is all about.  Try it and see what happens, then if necessary, make adjustments next year.

Journal Ideas!

  • What is your area's hardiness zone?
  • What is your area's heat zone?
  • What crops did you decide to plant?
  • Why are you planting them?  Because they'll grow, or because you like them?
  • Are you going to experiment and plant anything that falls outsize of your H-Zones?


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...