Growing food can be an incredibly rewarding undertaking. It’s even more rewarding when the plants we grow continue to produce more and more food for us to enjoy. With that in mind, for those of us looking to get abundant returns from the garden, we can approach our cultivating a little differently than the standard dozen or more vegetables that are customarily featured. Instead, we can grow stuff that yields big time.
The fact is that not all garden vegetables behave the same way. For example, when we plant a carrot seed or an onion set, we can expect to get — at best — a return of one vegetable. On the other hand, in some cases, one seed can yield pounds and pounds worth of delicious produce. In other words, if we grow these plants, we can get much more to eat for our efforts.
While most of us aren’t about to give up carrots and onions, we might want to rethink what we plant so that we can get the most out of what we personally put into the garden.
Tomatoes are the home gardener’s favorite. For many, nothing tastes quite so nice as fresh, homegrown tomatoes taken from the vine. Though technically a fruit (we all know that old rag), for our purposes, we are simply looking for what will produce a lot of food while taking up a little space. A single tomato plant, depending on variety, can give somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds of food, growing vertically rather than taking up valuable garden space.
Like tomatoes, eggplants are part of the nightshade family, which oddly is known for being deadly but simultaneously provides many of our favorite vegetables. One plant does produce a lot of fruit per plant, but the number of eggplants does vary depending on which type is planted. Small varieties will produce dozens of fruits, while bigger choices may top out at less than 10. Regardless, we are expecting pounds of food per plant.
Squash is a broad category, but for the most part, we can think of two different types: summer squashes like zucchini and crookneck and autumn /winter squashes like butternut and carnival. Whichever type is in the ground, squash plants put out in abundance. A good yellow squash plant can put out something like 25 pounds of food. Similarly, a vine of butternut squashes can put out around 15, more or less, large squashes.
Melons belong to the squash family and produce abundance similarly to winter squashes. A single vine will put out large fruits, which equates to a lot of food poundage. At the extreme, a huge watermelon can weigh over a hundred pounds. Cantaloupe, while not as big, also puts out a lot of weight per vine, though it may only be a few fruits. They can be trained up fences or trellises to save space.
Sticking with the squash family, cucumbers are a beloved home garden choice. They are great for fresh salads, and who doesn’t love homemade pickles? Like the other squashes, cucumber vines produce a lot of food, often more than gardeners can keep up with, which is why pickles make so much sense: They are the best way to preserve cucumbers. They also really complement a veggie burger or sandwich.
Getting back to the nightshades, potatoes are one of the most productive plants per square foot, especially when grown using the bucket or barrel method. Potatoes are super versatile in the kitchen, and they are easy to grow. They’ll literally flourish when set on the ground and covered with a bit of straw, and one plant puts out about half a dozen full-sized potatoes. Or, “new” potatoes can be harvested continually throughout the season.
In hot areas, okra is definitely a good idea for the garden. On a mature plant, which can be around 8 feet tall, an okra pod can grow from nothing to mature (about 3-4 inches) in just a couple of days. In other words, productive okra plants can be checked and harvested from on a daily basis or maintained every couple of days so as not to waste food. Plus, the leaves are edible in a pinch, as well!
Of course, for those with plenty of space and time, growing some onions and carrots is a great idea. But, for those of us trying to get the biggest bang per plant and per square foot, these types of vegetables might be the wiser choice. They’ll give us lots to eat.
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