Grow Smart: Thinking Strategically in the Vegetable Garden

Tips for making the most of your garden and growing what works best for your region and tastes.

Ripe Green Zucchini

Ripe Green Zucchini

Photo by: DK - Gardening Step by Step © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Gardening Step by Step , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

There might be such a thing as too much zucchini.

When a co-worker dropped by my office and unceremoniously plunked down on my desk a fairly large box overflowing with zucchini, I was impressed with his gardening prowess.  If this was his overflow, imagine how much he still had at home.

“Nope, that’s all of it.  Take what you want and leave the rest up front.”  Huh?  Turned out he doesn’t like zucchini.

And yet he grows it every year.

While there is some satisfaction in being able to share the bounty, for the home vegetable grower with limited space, it may be time to rethink growing crops only to give them away or, worse yet, allow them to simply go to waste.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially down here in glorious Zone 7B, where a long growing season can keep the produce rolling in for months on end.  I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like, so my problem is less about what to plant as how much.  It’s exciting to watch them fill the garden. Enthusiasm is always high in June. But talk to me in August when the thought of one more squash stir fry starts to make a quick run to Char-Grill for a cheeseburger look mighty appealing. Same goes for string beans, eggplant, peppers and zucchini.  I’d include tomatoes here, but come on. You can never have too many tomatoes. So what do we need to consider when planning to make the most of the vegetable garden?

  • Plant what you’ll eat. Deceptive in its simplicity, yes. But if you don’t like lima beans, you won’t like them any better if you’ve picked them yourself.
  • Plant what will grow. No matter how much you like it, if it doesn’t suit your climate, don’t plant it.  That space can be better used for something else.
  • How much is too much? Eventually, the thought of one more bell pepper weakens even the most devoted.  Even if you can bear to pick them, they may end up sitting at the end of your counter until making a trip back outside to the compost pile.
  • Plan to share. Trading produce with other gardeners is a great way to add variety to your table.  If you are the selfless type, your non-gardening friends can also reap the rewards.
  • Preserve the harvest. Home canning, freezing or dehydrating your crops will give you access to home grown goodness all year long.  And those winter soups have never been better.

Whether a devoted homesteader or a hobbyist, nothing is more satisfying than the journey’s end on your dinner table.

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