12 Plants that will feed you all summer and well into Fall
My garden feeds me all summer. Not only is there lots of food for every day use, but there is lots for pickling and preserving.
I like to experiment with different vegetables and they sometimes turn out really well. Most of the food comes from only a few plants though.
My 12 Plant
1- Assorted Greens
Most seed companies will offer an assortment of greens. David's seeds offers Greens Mix Premium . Most companies that sell vegetable seeds will have a mixture. Here is another mix. Versey offers "Asian Greens". Greens are nice as salad when the plants are young and can be thrown in a stir fry or boiled up for a mess of greens as they mature. When they are young they all taste fresh and tender. As they get older they get more flavourful and work better when cooked.
Don't plant the whole greens area. Rather keep some space and plant a little section every 2 weeks so you always have salad greens. If you want to add more variety to your salad/greens you can throw a few radish seeds in the area you have left unplanted. They come up very quickly and produce radishes in less than a month. You can eat the leaves too lightly steamed.
If you plant your greens quite close together you can gradually thin them out as you eat them and give more space for the plants to grow and mature.
Avoid lettuce only mixtures. A mixture with one kind of lettuce included is fine. There is not a lot of nutrition in lettuce and they bolt quite early and go to seed.
Beet seedlings make a nice green, as do mature leaves. They taste very similar to the swiss chard greens, which are sometimes included in the mixtures. The benefit of the beet greens is that you can get beets out of the deal. Since I don't eat a lot of beets, I don't specifically grow a lot but if you really like them add some in your greens spot, plant them too close together and eat the extra plants as you thin them. Beets pickle really well.
Beans can be relied on to give you a good supply of pods throughout the season if you do a few plantings. Some varieties produce well and then are pretty much done while others don't give you quite as much at once but keep going.
Like the greens, it pays to do a few plantings a few weeks apart.
Some of the heirloom varieties can be left to go to seed and the beans collected can be used as any other dried bean. Hybrid varieties don't always go to seed.
There are many varieties available. Assume that the beans will need to be staked and supported. Certainly any of the pole varieties will need something to climb on.
I plant green and yellow beans and one type of pole bean, scarlet runner, because I think they are so pretty.
How would you like a plant that can be eaten as a green bean, picked while the beans seeds are still immature like lima beans, or wait till the fall and pick the mature beans to use like any other dried beans?
Not only does the Scarlet Runner Bean pay the rent in the garden by producing lots of beans, but it is an attractive plant with pretty red flowers that attracts hummingbirds. As a bonus the beans are a stylish black and pink colour.
Even better, it is easy to grow and seeds are widely available. It's easy to keep a few seeds from the previous year once you've had a crop.
The fresh bean pods tend to get tough quickly so I also plant some bush beans at interval through the summer.
If you have too many beans you can easily pickle a few jars. Add some dill and garlic, a bit of hot pepper flakes, salt, vinegar and water and your beans can be as good as any commercial pickled beans.
I know some people freeze them but I've never found that they are particularly good. Maybe you can do better.
Beans start producing after about 7 weeks. Here is The variety Provider. It germinates in slightly cooler soil than most beans require and produces quite a lot.
Beans need to be planted when the weather has warmed up a bit because they will not come up if the soil is too cold. If your bean seed just sits in the soil there is a greater chance that a squirrel or mouse will dig it up or that it will rot, before germinating.
In the past I've had a lot of trouble growing red runner beans because I had a cat who adored eating the plants. Last year when we moved, only 3 seedlings escaped being eaten. The cat preferred to stay indoors so she missed them in the pool enclosure which doubles as a greenhouse in the early spring. She was very old and she died before she had a chance to eat the remaining plants. I planted them in the garden in honour of Lulu.
Each year I would plant several pots for her, just to give Lulu the pleasure of eating the baby bean plants.
If you look at the pot with the bean seedling you can see one tall plant and a little stub to the right of it. That is one of the plants pruned by Lulu. I planted it and it grew to be a healthy large plant.
They can be very productive in a good year. I picked 2 pounds of dried beans from 3 plants. Not the usual yield but not extraordinary either.
Seeds are readily available in the stores but here is a link for Scarlet Runner Bean (Edible Flowers) D1000A (Red) 25 Heirloom Seeds
No garden is complete without a few tomatoes. I plant one plant of cherry or grape tomatoes for salads and just eating. I love the super sweet taste. The nicer tasting ones tend to split more but since they don't have to keep very long I don't care.
I also plant a couple plants of the bunch tomatoes, medium in size and easy to grow they produce well and are tasty.
For quantity and canning I plant several of the roma type tomatoes. These are meaty tomatoes that produce lots of fruit for tomato sauce and drying. They are not as good eating as other varieties but can't be beat for canning.
Everyone has tomato preferences. It's almost a religions for some! Whichever you choose, make sure you give them enough space to grow and for air to circulate.
4- Peppers or Aubergine (eggplant)
Peppers are tasty and versatile and add colour to salads. You should have a few plants. When you choose your peppers try and match your conditions with the peppers. If your season is short, earlier varieties are better.
If you like eggplants then throw in a couple too. They require just about the same care as peppers. Aubergine is not in my must have list but if you have space why not. I really like them.
In my end of the woods the peppers and eggplants do well if the season is warm and don't do much if it's cold. I like a few just for variety I have the large European types and the long asian ones. This year was one of the hottest and dryest year I've seen and I had buckets of peppers and aubergine. I froze and pickled what I could.
They both benefit from being set out in little protective tents till the weather warms up.
5- Zucchini - Courgette
For sheer volume and enthusiasm, you can't beat zucchini. If you have a happy zucchini plant you have a meal.
A healthy plant will give you a zucchini every second day and if you don't pick them, they will grow to blimp size. You will discover the dozens of uses for extra zucchini. I dry them, make great relish, make zucchini bread, freeze them and include them in Ratatouille, a delicious mixture of zucchini, tomato, pepper, onion and eggplant. Plant 2 in case something bad happens to the one.
Zucchini is prey to the squash vine borer, a gorgeous beetle that lays an egg on your plant and this hatches to a grub that eats the inside of the plant and eventually kills it. Here's my page on the Squash Borer.
One tactic you can try is planting one or 2 plants then waiting for a couple of weeks and planting a couple more. The beetle is only around for a couple of weeks so you might miss the adults and avoid infection.
There are many different kinds of summer squash, besides zucchini in green and yellow varieties you can get gourd shaped ones and pattypan that looks like little flying saucers. They are not as productive but are fun.
Smaller varieties have been developed if you don't have much space but the squash are usually smaller.
Squash are one of my favourite vegetables. They range from delicious nutty and sweet to turnip on a bad day flavour. I usually plant Butternut and Acorn or Kabocha.
These plants are not much trouble. You plant them in rich soil, they are hungry plants, and they gradually take over your garden and in the fall you go and find dozens of squash that will feed you for most of the winter.
They like good soil and lots of space. I plant mine near an area I don't mow to allow the wildflowers to grow. An old uncle used to encourage his squash to grow on his TV tower. He would have squash growing 20 feet in the air. They took no space at all that way.
Some varieties are less attractive to the squash vine borer so choose those if they are a problem in your area. Here is a page with names of common squash and lots of info.
Kale is one of my favourite garden plants. I grow curly leaf kale but there are many different varieties.
It is prolific, delicious, and really good for you. It is resistant to most diseases and bugs. I get the odd cabbage worm and occasionally some aphids but very rarely. I pick leaves well into the winter. I just brush the snow off the plants and pick them. It stops growing when the weather gets cold but the leaves take a long time to get damaged by frost. In the spring there are still some leaves and the plant regrows some for early eating. The plant really does not do well on the second year so in the spring I pull them out and re-plant new kale.
The world is divided in kale haters and kale lovers. If you love it then plant a few. 5 plants keep me in Kale for the season and a few more allow me to dry some and freeze a few bags.
8- Brussel Sprouts or Broccoli or Kohl Rabi
Brussel sprouts are a member of the cabbage family and a great producer. You don't get much until late summer but then, you get a steady supply of little cabbages on big tall stalks. They last till the snow flies. They occasionally get cabbage worms and the odd slug has to picked off but they are not hard to grow.
Broccoli is a delicious alternative but to have a steady supply you need to plant several waves. With a broccoli plant it's all or nothing. If you plant 4 broccoli plants at the same time you will end up with 4 big heads in the same week. Once you have harvested the broccoli head then you have this tremendous big plant that continues to produce only little clusters of broccoli. If you have the space that's fine otherwise pull them out after harvest and put something else with short harvest time like radish, green onions or lettuce. To have broccoli over a season your best bet is to start 2 or 3 lots at about 3 weeks interval so that they don't ripen all at once.
I have not included cabbage in my list because you only get one cabbage at the end of the season. There are many bugs that love cabbage so they are tricky to keep bug free. Finally they are so inexpensive at the end of the season that I don't like to give up space to them.
Another choice out of the cabbage family is Kohl Rabi. It looks like nothing more than a fat bulging stem with a few leaves but the bump is quite delicious. It is much like the inside of the broccoli stem, sweet and crisp. Plant a few seed every couple of weeks and you will have them all season.
The cabbages (kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohl rabi) have tremendous nutritional value. They are loaded with good stuff and cancer fighting chemicals, so whichever you choose you should add some to your garden. You can also eat the leaves as long as they are not too tough. The leaves taste like cabbage.
9- Onion - Garlic
I can't imagine cooking or making anything without onions or garlic so they get a spot in my must have list. But, onion is so inexpensive and abundant at the end of the summer in the markets that it's not worth planting a lot for storage unless you have a lot of space. Instead I plant small onions sets every few weeks and have green onions all summer and into the fall.
Because onions are a good plant to use for companion planting, since they repel many of the bad guys, I plant them around most of the other plants. I just go around wtih my little sets and stick them here and there. When I need some green onions I walk around the garden and pick whoever has come up. At the end of the season there is always several larger onions to pick.
Garlic is another story. I love green garlic but also grow the bulbs. Garlic, for bulb production gets planted in the fall. They grow little green stems in the fall and the next year the garlic bunch develops. When the foliage dies down they can be picked, this is roughtly in September.
If you only want green garlic, much like green onions, then you can plant the garlic cloves in the spring and dig them up as you want them.
Raw onion and garlic are also super plants when it comes to nutrition and disease prevention. There are many varieties to choose from too.
It's hard to imagine a garden without a few herbs so here are my favourites. I always have a couple of parsley plants because I like tabouli (parsley salad). I have oregano because the bees and other good insects love it. There is always basil planted throughout the garden. I make lots of pesto and freeze it. It makes for cheap delicious pasta in the winter. Chives comes back every year and has lovely purple flowers.
It is said that planting basil with your tomatoes makes the tomatoes taste better. I don't know if that's true because the tomatoes taste great anyway, but it's convenient because basil goes well with tomato salad.
I like to have a couple of dill plants to make pickled beans and dill pickles.
There is a little patch of coriander/cilantro that just seems to re seed itself and that I beat back occasionally. Delicious in salads and wraps, and in Mexican style cooking and Indian food.
Every year I plant some rosemary. It never does very well but it's nice to have some. Maybe some day I will figure out how to grow it properly.
Sage is another regular. Many of the herbs are perrennials and come back every year, sage is one of those.
It has a wonderful eartly and almost resinous taste.
Besides being delicious, herbs have all kinds of good healthy things in them. They are also good at keeping bad insects out of your garden. Plant them around other plants as companion plants.
Many seed companies offer herb assortments. Some herbs are better bought as seedlings, such as rosemary, sage or tarragon but others come up readily such as dill, oregano, cilantro, basil.
Choose one or many as you like.
You might like to add a few catnip plants to the herb section if you have a cat. It's even good for you. It makes a calming tea that will help you go to sleep. Here is my page on catnip for humans.
11- Cucumbers are another of my staples. I plant a couple of varieties. One just for eating and a pickling variety. They like to have a trellis and are easier to pick this way. There is usually no reason to put in many plants because one or 2 plants will give you lots of cucumbers.
They are subject to the squash vine borer and to various diseases so if there is a problem in your area choose varieties that are more disease resistant.
Why marigolds? Because they are great at keeping bad pest out of your garden. They help fight nematodes and little grubs that sneak up and eat your root vegetables, and repel any number of insects.
They are also very cheerful and look great in the garden.
I don't use pesticides in the garden and marigolds are one good way of keeping the bad guys away. Here is my page on natural pest control.
What I did not include and why
I did not include carrots because in my garden I have 2 problems. There are little worms that seem to riddle my carrots with holes and I have not found anything that eliminates them. I also have a healthy population of voles that come like Bugs Bunny and eat the carrot from below.
I have not included potatoes for similar reasons to the carrots. Sometimes the potatoes produce very well and the bugs and the mice stay away but often they do not. Commercial producers do a lot of spraying in a season that's why organic potatoes are not as common as some other produce. I would disregard my advice and still plant a few. They are quite wonderful when they are really small as new potatoes and often the grubs or mice have not found them yet.
Next season I will try blanketing the area in marigolds and interspacing some carrots and potatoes and see if the marigold keep the grubs and little nematodes away. I'll report.
One exception to this are the small purple potatoes. They seem to be quite free from pests and the voles don't like them very much.
Both potatoes and carrots, as well as cabbage and onions are cheap and abundant in the fall.
I've not included peas or edible pea pods. They are fussy and need to be continually picked. You need quite a lot of pea plants to get a meal and you need to get to them just before they start going starchy, the pea pods quickly toughen if not picked often. I put in a few every year but mostly for variety and fun. Critters around my garden seem to like them too so it's a challenge to grow them. Maybe you would do better.
I like to experiment and lately I've added Jerusalem Artichoke and Okra. The okra also known as gumbo and lady fingers produce well if the weather is warm but don't do much if it's cold. I love the vegetable and keep trying.
Jerusalem Artichoke is a tough plant that is easy to grow, produces a lot of tubers that are quite tasty. They grow very tall though and some people have trouble digesting them. If you have space give them a try. They can be invasive so leave space around them so you can get the mower around them and keep them in control.
Now the fun starts, Make your choices
The fun starts now. You have to decide what varieties you would like and how to lay out your garden.
I grow in raised beds mostly (except for the squash, cucumbers and Jerusalem Artichoke) because the soil here is really poor and solid clay over very close bedrock. 5 beds provide the bulk of the food and 4 are for experiments and herbs. Each bed is about 40 inches by 8 feet.
This information is for general knowledge. The choice of plants reflects my preferences. These are plants that have done well and have produced a lot.