Growing your own food is a fun, rewarding experience that can directly impact your community as well as your own table. With these plants pumping out generous harvests, you will realize that there is more than enough to go around. Here are ten of the most bountiful crops to plant:
Planting: Plant in rows that are 1-2′ apart.
Harvesting: To check the size of your carrots, gently remove some dirt from the top of the root and check the size of the root. To harvest, gently lift the carrot from the soil.
Tips: Keep your carrot patch well weeded so they aren’t fighting for space and nutrients.
Planting: Choose a spot with full sun and plant deep in rich soil. You can even bury the stem to the first few sets of leaves! The tomato will develop roots along the buried stem and you’ll have a nice strong plant.
Harvesting: Pluck tomatoes from the vine/bush when they reach the desired color and size.
Tips: Feeding, pruning, and support are essential for optimal tomato harvests. Use tomato cages, prune frequently, and watch for calcium deficiency (blossom-end rot).
Planting: Grow the vines vertically up a trellis or scaffold to save garden space and keep fruit clean and reachable.
Harvesting: Cut the cucumbers from the vine with pruners or a sharp knife. Wear gloves as cucumber plants can be prickly!
Tips: Remember to pick your cucumbers when they are still immature for the best flavor.
Planting: Plant in full sun after all danger of frost has passed.
Harvesting: Bean plants fruit fairly continuously so harvesting is an ongoing job. Gently pull or snap the bean off from the vine end.
Tips: Water in the morning so the plants can dry rapidly and avoid fungal disease.
Planting: Lettuce and spinach are considered cold crops and do best in spring and fall, avoiding the heat of the summer.
Harvesting: Cut or tear the outer ring of leaves (giving the inner leaves time to develop). Try to keep the plant from bolting (flowering) and the leaves won’t become bitter as they age.
Tips: Plant in successive waves to keep the harvest going longer.
Planting: Plant shallots in well draining soil that has been amended with compost. Keep soil evenly moist (not soggy) and nicely weeded.
Harvesting: Shallots are ready to harvest in summer once the leafy tops wither (usually 90 days from planting) and a paper skin develops on the bulbs. Carefully pull up shallots, leaves and all. Shallots are similar to onions in outer appearance, but inside you will find they have cloves rather than layers, which is more like garlic.
Tips: Many shallot growers also use the leafy tops as an alternative to green onions or chives. These can be harvested once the leafy tops have substantial growth, about a month after planting.
Planting: Give strawberries room to spread their runners. Usually 18″ between plants is sufficient. Don’t bury the crown of the strawberry plant, that is where new leaves and flowers will start.
Harvesting: Pick strawberries in the morning when it is cool and wait to wash them until just before eating.
Tips: While you may have just become best friends with the birds in your neighborhood, it’s ok for you to eat some of your hard-earned strawberry harvest too… cover at least half your crop with a fine bird-safe netting.
Planting: Pick a sunny spot with richly amended soil. Water moderately, peppers are thirsty but hate water-logged soil!
Harvesting: Wait until just before maturity to pick sweet peppers. Use a sharp knife or garden shears to cut the tough stem. Refrain from tugging on the fruit, which may break off a branch or even uproot the entire plant.
Tips: Peppers are light feeders. Over-fertilizing will create lush foliage at the expense of the plant’s fruit production.
Planting: Swiss chard likes a spot with full to partial sun, and well-draining soil. It will grow the fastest during the cool spring and early summer months, slowing down as temperatures climb mid-summer.
Harvesting: Begin to cut leaves when they are 9-12″ tall. You can cut them about an inch off the ground. Cut the outer leaves first to allow the tender inner leaves to grow.
Tips: Some gardeners like to grow “baby greens,” meaning they like to harvest the leaves at a height of up to six inches tall. If you are just growing for baby greens, you may plant your Swiss chard starts closer together.
Planting: Don’t be in a rush to plant zucchini, be sure all danger of frost has passed. Plant in full sun 18-24″ apart. Water in the early mornings and try not to wet the leaves, this should help fend off powdery mildew.
Harvesting: Pick young and pick often! Generally, zucchini is best when harvested between 5-7.” You want to leave an inch or two of stem on the fruit.
Tips: Zucchini flowers are also delicious! Stuff them with ricotta or cream cheese and lightly batter and fry them. Just make sure you leave enough flowers to end up with some fruit at harvest time.
…and if you’ve eaten and donated as much zucchini as you think possible, check HERE for some unusual recipes!