What to Grow?
After creating the perfect environment for your plants to flourish, you now face your greatest challenge: 'What should I grow?' Your time, money and space may be limited, so you may need to be selective.
I recommend trying to diversify. Perhaps your tomatoes won't do well, but your swiss chard may thrive. Also, don't be afraid to try something new. It could be an odd variety of pepper. Or it may be an herb you never heard of. Buy a little at the grocery store and try it out. If you hate it, don't grow it. But if you like it, you've found a candidate for next year's garden! Try to be practical and objective, while maintaining a level of fun and variation.
Factors that can help with selection
USAGE: What fruits or vegetables do you actually eat? If you eat loads and loads of tomatoes, then it makes sense to grow your own. After all, you know that you'll actually eat them and they won't go to waste. Also, how much will a single plant yield? One or two zucchini plants may provide more than enough for a family of two.
PRICE: How expensive is the produce if you buy it at a store? Some produce might be so inexpensive that it's not worth the real estate to bother growing your own. This is especially true if you are very limited on space. In my area zucchini is really cheap (when in season). For me, it's not worth the effort to grow it. Often people are trying to give it away!
AVAILABILITY: Is the food widely available or can it be hard to find at most grocers? Not all grocery stores have swiss chard, sorrel, water cress or escarole. And so, depending on where you live, there may be some things that you just have to grow for yourself!
VARIETY: Is there an heirloom or odd variety that you can only enjoy by growing it yourself? Of course, your grocer may carry bell peppers, but do they have nepalese or pasilla bajio peppers? Do they have royal burgundy beans or cosmic purple carrots? To truly see the genetic variation within a species, you'll need to grow your own.
PRODUCTIVITY: Does the plant generate a high yield with a minimal investment? Certain fruits or vegetables may produce more abundantly within a given space. Broccoli requires a lot of space. And it has a small harvesting window. When I've grown it in my area, I got a large plant but only a small head. Broccoli is low in pesticides and a large head may only cost a couple bucks. So for me, I've decided not to grow it anymore. On the other hand, my kale produces from the Spring through the Fall. And what you grow, is what you eat. It is a large but efficient plant.
PESTICIDES: Is this fruit or vegetable known to have high pesticide residue? This should be a concern for all of us. When you grow your own veggies you have complete control over what sorts of chemicals are applied to them. But the stuff from the store... hmm not so much. One thing that helps is being familiar with which foods have been tested and shown to have the highest levels of pesticide residues. Some fruits and vegetables have much higher levels than others. That's a good reason to grow your own kale, spinach or peppers. Along those lines, you can try growing your own lettuce to avoid E.coli contamination.
QUALITY: Each year, produce quality has become an ever bigger factor in determining what I grow. I'm sick and tired of half rotted strawberries, sour apples, green peaches that refuse to ripen. I'll bring garlic home and find it has already begun sprouting. I cut into a big bright bell pepper and find to be bland and gross tasting. At this point, I refuse to buy certain fruits or vegetables. Of course, some produce is worse than others. But, if I'm going to eat fresh, ripe strawberries, I'll have to grow them myself!
Once you've compiled your list of candidates, you're ready for the next step!