Today I would like to discuss the most challenging yet exciting part of our spring planting. That is choosing which plants to plant. Now this may not be a big deal if you have several acres to plant, and if you do I hope this will still help you in choosing your plants. As for us and the other thousands of small gardeners out there, this is very important. Why is this so important you might ask? Well if you are gardening a small area the first question you ask yourself is " How much produce can I grow in this small area? " Our plant choices revolve around this question and also plants that are Heirloom, which I will cover later. When it comes to small gardens I say stick to the basics. Here are some of the plants that we choose to plant.
1. Green Beans - Any pole or bush type bean will do well. We prefer Kentucky Wonder and have even done very well with just a bag of pinto beans. We plant our beans about 6 inches apart on rows 20 feet long. We usually do at least 2 rows of beans because in our family we eat a lot of them. We can get 80 plants in 2 rows and at peak production get up to 15 or 20 beans per plant per "picking." You can see how this can add up quickly and have not used much space at all. We usually pick beans every 3 days at peak production. Now are you understanding why Green Beans are a must have in the small garden.
2. Tomato - There are 2 types of tomatoes that we like to plant, and each serving their own purpose. The first being Rutgers. We choose these because number 1 they are an excellent heirloom variety. Second, if you use the right fertilizer and the right amount of water, "both subjects to be covered later in the week", these can be so meaty that when sliced there is very little room left for seeds. Have you ever picked up some tomatoes from the store and when you slice it, it just fell apart and most of it is just seeds and juice? These are grown too fast, watered too much, " yes too much". These tomatoes are developed to grow big and fast. The only way to do this is to fertilize with chemicals and pour as much water to them as they can handle. All of this water just fills the shell. Like everything else on the farm, slower is better. Choose an heirloom variety and give it the 10 to 12 days longer to ripen and you'll be glad you did. The second tomato we plant is the cherry tomato. There are some good varieties out there. The one we use is just simply large cherry tomato. This tomato has performed very well for us. I have actually measured them after they fall over their cage at 12 feet from the base to the end of the vine and have counted up to 90 tomatoes on one plant. These are great for salads and eating them fresh or just canning them whole. They are a little sweeter than the Rutgers and make a great salsa. These 2 varieties are excellent choices for small gardens and producing a lot of tomatoes.
3. Squash - This is probably my favorite plant of them all. I like squash any way you can cook them. We also plant 2 different squash in our spring garden. There are numerous summer squash and winter squash, but we will just stick to the basics today. These 2 are straight neck and zucchini. There are different names for each one just choose an heirloom. We choose straight neck for our yellow squash simply because they grow bigger and have plenty of meat. Crook Neck tend to be a little smaller and have less meat. Remember we are working to get more produce in a small area. We use both of these squash the same, in fact we even cook them together and freeze them together. Both are excellent sliced thin and fried to make chips with them. This is a great snack idea for the kids. We usually plant at least 12 to 16 plants half and half of each. This will give you 3 to 4 of each per week. More than enough to cook and to freeze or can. About 2 squash cut up will be enough to feed our family along with the other foods in the meal.
4. Cucumber - We use mainly only 1 kind of cucumber and that is the pickling cucumbers. They come in either bush type or vine type. We have used both. The bush type favorite is Pickle Bush. If you are really limited on space this is the way to go. It has a high yield in a small space. The other cucumber is the National Pickling Cucumber. It is a vine type and will be covered in blooms every 2 inches up the vine. You can save space with these as we do and grow them up instead of out. We use a wire panel such as a cattle panel that you can buy at the hardware or feed store. They usually come in about 16 foot lengths and about 4 feet tall. You can grow all of the cucumber you want on this. You may ask why do we grow pickling cucumbers. Well we love pickles. Our kids can eat a quart jar a week. Also you don't have to pick them small. If you let them go another day or two you will get a nice slicing cucumber. They will get as big as a straight eight just not as long. Give these pickling cucumbers a shot and you will not be disappointed.
5. Corn - Last but not least is corn. I know you are thinking I am crazy about writing corn and small garden in the same article. Just hear me out and you'll be doing it to. Find you a good heirloom variety an area about 15 x 15 and you can plant all the corn you will need. Plant your seeds 4 to 6 inches apart. Really get them in tight. This will give you all the corn you need, also it will encourage the plants to grow tall as they will be competing for sun. On your heirloom varieties you will get about 3 ears per plant. If you can get 300 plants in this area that's 900 ears of corn. This will give you all of the whole, cream, and cob corn you want. Try this one out if you are still not convinced. Also this will keep so much wind damage from being done during spring storms. They will support each other. Corn will no longer be the plant you skip over when planning you garden.
You do not have to follow these exactly. There are so many more things you can plant. And there's more that we plant too. Some of you may not like these types of produce. That's fine. I just want you to know that there is a way of making that small space work for you. There are families out there growing every thing they need in planter boxes and raised beds. Just think of it this way, every amount of produce you you grow and put on your table makes a difference. The way things are grown now days whether it's animals or plants, you can't get something that's actually healthy. Go with heirloom, save your seeds and use them to replant. There is a lot of satisfaction in doing this and putting food on the table that you actually grew yourself. It doesn't matter if you are planting 100 acres or a 10 x 10 area. Remember to maximize your production by growing high yield plants. In today's world we need more for less. Check back in a day or two and I will share with you how we fertilize. -Joe
"...Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest."