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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

What to Grow in Your Small Vegetable Garden?

Feb 01, 2012 01:12PM
“FRESNO” is the Key.

 by Don Rosenberg

 A happy vegetable garden is a true source of joy. Who wouldn’t want fresh food for their family all year long? Even with busy schedules and tiny back yards, most families can still have a productive small garden. The trick is growing the right crops. Just fifty square feet of garden space in raised beds can be enough to provide a bountiful harvest for a family of four.

The key to small garden success can be found in “FRESNO.” Not the city, but a list I made up of ways to decide which crops are worth growing in a small garden. Your goal is to get maximum harvest with as little space, time and water as possible.

Fresh All vegetables are tastier when they're fresh, but some are amazing when compared with frozen, those purchased from your local store, or even from a farmers market. Vegetables often lose their flavor within hours of being picked. Others are picked before they're ripe and never achieve full flavor. If you've never eaten peas right out of the pod or a locally grown strawberry you're in for a treat. Leaf lettuce and spinach are good crops for your spring garden, which should be planted in mid-February.

Rare If you’re going to grow your own crops, pick something unique or unusual. There are so many varieties to choose from. Look for heirloom seeds online or in the better garden centers. Purple carrots, white beets, red speckled lettuces. Experimenting with new varieties is half the fun of family gardening.

Expensive As the price of food - especially organic produce - continues to climb, choose to grow vegetables that are the most expensive. Onions are cheap, try shallots or leeks instead. “Baby” varieties can cost a fortune. By planting early and harvesting your “thinnings” you get baby varieties of carrots, spinach, and beets.

Space saving Avoid the "space hogs" like corn and broccoli, since they take up a lot of room and don't generate a lot of harvest. A 3x8 bed of corn might generate 20 ears in a season. At 2 for $1 that's a $10 harvest! Avoid pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, melons, and winter squash. Leave these to local farmers who have plenty of room.

Nutritional value Fresh vegetables have the highest nutritional value at the time of harvest. Avoid "empty" vegetables like iceberg lettuce in favor of darker green leafy lettuces.

Ongoing harvest Look for varieties that offer a long harvest period. Grow leaf lettuce instead of iceberg lettuce. As they sprout, you can thin them for an early harvest, and as they mature you can harvest them a leaf at a time. Instead of a one-day harvest of head lettuce, you’ll have fresh lettuce for your salads all spring long. Look for the taller varieties of climbing peas. They’re very productive, especially when compared with bush varieties that were bred for farmers to grow to a certain height and mature all at the same time.

So don't despair, a small garden can pack a big punch, as long as you remember FRESNO. Plant your spring garden in mid-February.

Don Rosenberg owns Instant Organic Garden, a business that installs raised bed vegetable gardens throughout the greater Charlotte area and is the author of No Green Thumb Required! Organic Family Gardening Made Easy. More info: [email protected] or


Spring Crops List…

Arugula Asparagus Beets Broccoli Raab Carrots Collard Greens Garlic Kale Kohlrabi Leeks Lettuce Mustard Greens Onions Pak Choi Peas Radishes Spinach Strawberries Swiss chard

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