Choosing what to grow in your garden is tough. Whether you have limited time, limited resources, or limited space, you can’t fit in everything from those seed catalogues that you love flipping through. While I can’t make that desire to buy one of everything go away, I can give you some tips to help you narrow down that list. I use these tips every year to prevent myself from ordering a too many packets of seed (I don't think there's such a thing, but dad does!)
The demand for seeds this year is crazy, with many seed companies selling out of varieties. So, don’t wait and order now!
In terms of where to order seeds, you have a lot of options. There are seed companies both big and small all over the world that you can choose from! It’s always great to order from small local seed companies because they will be able to tell you what does well where you live, and they will have locally adapted varieties. But, on the other hand, bigger companies are good for buying larger quantities of seed, like all the spinach, arugula, and other salad greens that I order a lot of.
1. What you Already Have
Start by going through the seeds that you have, and check to see if you have enough of things that you will be growing again. I still have a bit of arugula seed leftover from last year, but will be buying more because I don’t have enough to get me through this year. Seeds also only last so long. With every year that goes by, the germination rate will go down. Tomatoes seeds can last more than 10 years and still germinate reasonably well, while lettuce seeds start to decline after two or 3 years.
‘Tom Thumb’ lettuce is a standard in my garden‒a tried and true variety that does well for me every year. And while I try lots of new and different ones all the time, I keep growing it because I love it, and know that no matter how my other lettuces do, I can count on it! Always grow some varieties that you have grown before, and that have done well year after year. By growing some standards that always do well in your garden, you’re sure to get a bountiful, delicious harvest! That said, leave space for new varieties too!
3. Days to maturity
Watch for the days to maturity (DTM) when you’re planning what to grow. Things like peppers and eggplants that take a long time to bear fruit. Consider your indoor growing space, and how many plants you can start indoors before the weather is warm enough for them to go outside. The days to maturity is also important knowledge for people with shorter growing seasons, where you have to grow quick-maturing varieties to get a good harvest. And lastly, use the DTM of various crops to plan for a continuous harvest. Let's say you’re growing beans, for example. Growing varieties that mature at different times throughout the season ensures there'll be no bean shortage at your house. You can also succession plant for a continuous harvest, but that’s a topic for another time.
4. Plant Growth
It’s really important to consider your growing space when ordering seeds. Some plants stay quite small, while others act like they want to conquer the world. With tomatoes, for example, you have tiny micro dwarf varieties, massive indeterminates, and everything in between. The size of plant that you get should depend on where you’re growing it. If you have a small space, smaller plants are probably the way to go. But, then there’s also the possibility to layer plants, like having a tall tomato plant with lettuce growing underneath, which is also a great use of space. There’s no one answer of what size plants you should grow. Just think about what you want the garden to look like before you buy. Another thing to consider is that larger plants often require a bit more work, often pruning and training, in addition to more space to grow. But, they do tend to boast the bonus of higher yields.
5. Visual Appeal
Edible plants can also be ornamental plants. Take the ‘Jigsaw’ pepper for example, with its gorgeous purple, green, and white variegated foliage. Or ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets, with its striking dark red foliage. I also think that tomato plants also look great, but I might be a bit biased. There are TONS of really great looking plants out there that are not only showy, but delicious too. These plants are great to incorporate into an already existing ornamental garden, and a great choice to put in locations where you can show them off, like in a front yard or by a patio!
6. Disease Resistance
Last year, all my basil was killed by downy mildew. It was the middle of the summer when the tomatoes were in full swing, and the worst time to have no basil. This year, when buying basil seeds, I bought a downy mildew variety so I can indulge on basil all summer long! This applies to many other crops too‒tomatoes, cucumbers, squash‒just look back at past gardening seasons and see what was affected, and then buy seeds to prevent it from happening this year. And if you have a choice, it is always better to go with more disease resistant varieties, just to be safe!
7. General Care Requirements
Plants can be fussy. They all have ideal conditions to help them thrive. And our job as gardeners is to meet those conditions to help them do their best, so we can have the best harvest possible. If you don’t have a lot of direct sunlight in your garden, it may be best to go with plants that do well in partial sun. But, also think about other possibilities, like making another garden bed in a sunnier spot or putting pots on your sunny patio. Just give it a bit of thought before ordering. If plants do best in a certain soil, think about how you’re going to amend your plot, or maybe consider growing that crop in containers where you have complete control of the soil.
8. What You Like to Eat!!!
There are countless benefits to gardening. One of the biggest is having access to fresh, delicious food. So, when you’re deciding what to grow, make sure that it’s things that you like to eat! If you don’t like eggplant (which I totally understand!) then don’t grow it! Lots of time and work goes into growing your own food, so make sure you’re going to enjoy the fruits of your labour! I love tomatoes, and I grow a lot of them!