Seven Vegetables that Give You the Most Bang for your Buck
Does this sound familiar? You start paging through those beautiful seed catalogs, dreaming of spring and wondering which varieties you should plant.
But, like most of us, you probably have limited space, and your eyes might just be bigger than your trowel! You need to maximize the productivity of your garden, but maybe you’re not sure how.
The best and easiest way to do this is to grow veggies that are productive, don’t take up too much space, and don’t have too many pest or disease problems. But, which are the best?
This week’s list is going to cover what I consider the best veggies to grow. Next week, we’ll cover those that you might want to put further down your list, depending on space and time needs.
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Growing information for almost a dozen popular fruits and vegetables can be found on the blog under the Outdoor Plants, Crop of the Week heading. If you’d rather have the posts in a fully printable PDF version, you can purchase them here. Use code “growspring2020” to save $2 off the already low price.
Most Productive, Efficient Plants
These top the list for a number of reasons.
- They take up very little space
- They can be planted anywhere, around and between other veggies without causing problems, as long as there’s enough room for them to develop, and that’s only an inch or so!
- They’re so easy to grow from seed, just plant them and they’ll grow!
- They develop quickly, so you can get multiple crops a year. Succession planting every 2 weeks or so will give you a more or less continuous harvest all summer.
- If you let a few flower, the pollinators LOVE them! You won’t be able to eat these radishes, but the bees will thank you.
- Radishes function as a trap crop for several pests, including aphids and flea beetles, so growing some in a group away from your pest-prone crops may help with pest control. What’s even better is that the radishes themselves aren’t typically bothered by these pests, so you’ll still get a crop!
The only con I’ve ever found with growing radishes is that they get “angry” if they don’t get regular and abundant water. If you like really hot radishes, you won’t care, but if you’re like me and you prefer your radishes on the milder side, you’ll want to make sure to be generous with the water if Mother Nature isn’t!
Again, a very productive and efficient crop.
- Salad greens, like radishes, are super simple to grow from seed, taking root and germinating quickly and easily.
- Leaf lettuces (as opposed to head lettuces, which are a bit more space-hogging and complicated) take up very little space in the garden. In fact, they happily grow in all but the smallest of containers. Why not plant some in a hanging pot on your front porch or deck?
- As with radishes, salad greens can be planted around and between other crops without causing problems or taking valuable root space from other crops.
- Leaf lettuces will supply a fairly continuous crop as you can cut just the leaves you need, leaving the rest of the plant to continue to grow. When it starts to get old and leggy, it’s time to replant.
- Salad crops can be prone to bolting (sending up a flower stalk) in hotter weather, although this isn’t nearly as common with leaf lettuce as it is with the heading varieties. If you’re harvesting fairly consistently, your lettuce won’t be as prone to bolting.
- Chewing insects love salad crops as much as we do! You’ll likely find some insect holes and damage to your leaves, although these won’t detract from their edibility. If you want your crops to be “pretty”, it’s a simple matter to cover them with some insect netting to keep the creepy crawlies out, particularly if they’re in a pot or container.
If you’d like to learn more about growing lettuce, radishes and other salad crops, you can find the information in my Salad Crops post here.
One of my favorite crops to grow! It feels like Christmas morning when I get to harvest them!
- Particularly in the North, sweet potatoes have almost no pest or disease issues (other than deer, as I found out a couple of years ago!)
- Although their vines do take up a fair amount of room, they’re also quite productive. A 15 x 3 foot raised bed or box can produce upwards of 100 lbs of sweet potatoes in a good year.
- The vines are quite attractive, and their flowers are just beautiful, resembling the morning glories to which they’re related.
- Because disease problems are almost nonexistent in the North, I’ve successfully been growing sweet potatoes in the same section of my garden for a number of years. Rotation might be necessary in the South, but here in CT, it’s really not required. This makes planning a bit easier each year.
- For me, one of the pros is getting to harvest them at the end of the season! I find it so satisfying and such fun to dig in and find all those beautiful veggies! They’re easy to harvest, as well, because the roots grow out from the plant, not straight down, so they’re not very far under the surface. I typically just dig with my hands so as not to damage the sweet potatoes.
- There are a few disease and pest problems my friends in the South have to be aware of. I’ve written a post on Growing Sweet Potatoes that will help you out.
- Sweet potatoes need a long, warm growing season, so living in the North can make this a bit of a challenge. To me, though, this isn’t really that much of a problem, because I’ve successfully grown them for a number of years under black plastic garbage bags like these. I just cut the bags so they lay flat, and stake them down with these garden staples. (Even if you don’t grow sweet potatoes, these staples are AWESOME for so many things in the garden! Trust me, you’ll find something to do with them!) Another great advantage of the black plastic is that it retains moisture in the soil for the plants.
- Although peas aren’t quite as space-efficient as some plants, you can grow the pole variety vertically, which takes up very little space. Because they don’t need a lot of horizontal room, I’ve grown them just a few inches apart with lots of success.
- They can be started very early in the season (mid-March to mid-April in CT) directly in the garden so they don’t take up space in my seed starting room inside! Another advantage to the early start is that there aren’t that many pests around yet to trouble them.
- Peas are legumes. Because of this, they actually enrich your soil with nitrogen while they grow. If you pull up an entire plant, roots and all, at the end of the season, you’ll see nodules on the roots. These are the bacteria that work in the soil to fix nitrogen so plants can use it.
- NOTE: I would NOT recommend pulling up your pea plants, roots and all, at the end of the season. Leave the roots with all those wonderful bacteria right where they are and just cut the plants off at the soil level.
- Bees LOVE the pea blossoms, which means that they’re in your garden working amongst your other plants too!
- The only real con to peas is that they don’t do well once the weather warms up. However, this past year, I grew Super Sugar Snap peas. Although we didn’t have a really hot summer, it was certainly hot enough to damage the peas, with temps well into the 90’sF. However, I had peas on those plants all the way into August, and they stayed sweet and delicious the whole time!!!
If you’d like more detailed information about growing peas, you can find my Growing Peas Successfully post here.
- As with peas, if you grow pole beans, you can maximize your space and get a huge crop in a relatively small space.
- Beans do best when planted directly into the garden, but do need warm weather before that happens. Never fear, they don’t need a long growing season, so planting them as late as Memorial Day will give you a nice crop by mid-summer.
- Green beans are also legumes, so they have the same soil-boosting benefits as peas as well.
- Although green beans have a few pests, I haven’t had much of any trouble with them over the years. I’ll see a few holes in the leaves now and then, but that’s about it.
- Green beans aren’t fussy about soils, and unlike peas, they thrive in hot weather as long as they’re given adequate water.
- A fun variation on beans is the Chinese Red Noodle Bean. I grew them last year. They get really large and the plants are extremely productive. The taste is quite different from green beans, though, so you may or may not like them. They’re awesome in soups and casseroles too.
Again, very few cons. The only issue I’ve had, and it’s been minor, is rust at the end of the season. Rust is a fungal disease and, at least in my garden, has happened whether the season has been wet or dry.
I’ve found that pole beans are much less prone to rust because they get better air flow being up off the ground versus bush beans.
Another way to help prevent rust is to water from underneath, rather than overhead. Need more bean-growing tips? Check out my Growing Green Beans post here.
- Cucumbers can be relatively space-efficient, but only if you grow them on trellises. The vines will get really long and take up a lot of space if you let them crawl along the ground. You’ll find your harvest much easier to find if you grow them on a trellis too.
- You’ll likely get more cucumbers than you know what to do with during the season as they’re quite prolific! Pickles are a great way to preserve them, though! If you’re not already an email subscriber, be sure to sign up here so you can get my easy Freezer Pickle recipe, as well as an Easy Garden Trellis plan.
- Cucumbers thrive in hot weather, as long as they have sufficient water.
- Although they’re prone to powdery mildew, it doesn’t do a ton of damage to the plants themselves in my garden. Avoiding working on the plants early in the morning when the leaves are wet and watering from underneath are two good ways to help avoid it.
- My very favorite cucumber varieties are Poona Kheera and Suyo Long. Neither looks much like a “traditional” cucumber, but both lend themselves nicely to fresh eating and pickling. They even remain sweet when you miss one and it gets a bit too big!
- Cucumbers can be prone to pest problems, including cucumber beetles and squash bugs. I haven’t found squash bugs to be a huge problem on my cucumbers, although cucumber beetles can be annoying. They’re easily hand-picked, though, so they don’t tend to wreak havoc unless you ignore them for too long.
- Cucumbers, being predominantly water, require a LOT of water to keep them healthy, so plan to water regularly or set up an efficient watering system for them.
I hesitated to add tomatoes to this list as they could just as easily be added to next week’s, but I’ll make my argument and let you decide!
- The biggie ~ Garden fresh tomatoes! Really, this is why they’re worth it. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that matches the taste of a tomato fresh from the garden! For me, any amount of coddling and difficulty is worth it for these scarlet orbs of goodness.
- Grape and cherry tomatoes are easy to grow, and forgiving of quite a few less-than-ideal conditions. My Super Sweet 100’s have been reliable producers through wet and dry years, and they’re always sweet and juicy.
- The smaller tomatoes (such as cherry and grape) can also be grown easily in containers. Having a pot of cherry or grape tomatoes right outside your front door to snack on anytime is awesome!
- Plum or paste tomatoes tend to do well when other varieties may not, too. I’ve had great success with San Marzano for several years now. They make wonderful sauce, but aren’t bad for fresh eating either.
- Regular, full-sized heirloom tomato plants won’t thrive under less than ideal conditions, whether it’s too wet or too dry. You can help the “too dry” condition with regular and deep watering, but too wet is hard to fix, and will lead to diseases. This has been my biggest growing challenge. I’ve only had success with the larger tomato varieties like Cherokee Purple and Brandywine in one of the last 3 years. Don’t get me wrong, when they’re successful, they’re out of this world! It’s just that they’re not often successful.
- Tomatoes are prone to blight (as are others in their family ~ potatoes, peppers and eggplants), so diligent crop rotation is a must.
- You may find that tomato hornworms are an issue. I haven’t found them to be too much of a problem, but if you’re squeamish, you’re not going to like them!
- Tomatoes really benefit from added nutrients, particularly calcium. Adding a dose of Tomato Tone or another calcium-rich fertilizer at planting and then again when blossoms first appear is important.
- Regular watering is an absolute must. Uneven and irregular watering can lead to an issue with calcium deficiency (no matter how much is in the soil), which can lead to blossom end rot. Too much water at one time (even from a rainstorm) can also lead to cracking and bursting of the fruits. Like I said, tomatoes are divas (but they’re worth it, at least to me)!
If you’d like more information on growing tomatoes in your own garden, you can find my post on Growing Heirloom Tomatoes here.
I hope today’s post has been helpful and given you some food for thought (Ha! See what I did there?). If you’d like to save this post for later, be sure to pin one of the images below to your Gardening or Veggies boards on Pinterest.
Otherwise, thanks, as always, for reading, smile and have a crazy organic day!
Posts Related to Veggies Worth Growing
- Growing Sweet Potatoes
- Growing Green Beans
- Growing Peas Successfully
- Growing Organic Tomatoes
- Growing Salad Crops
- 8 Tips for Beginning Vegetable Gardeners
- Grow a Vegetable Garden in Containers