I love me a good seed catalog.
Flipping through pages of colorful vegetables, berries, fruits, and flowers of all kinds.
New and exciting varieties.
Squirrel effect comes on in full force.
“Oooh…look at that. Dragonfruit. I want dragonfruit.”
But wait a second- dragonfruit is, like, Zone 100.
Erin, you’re zone 3.
“But it’s sooo pretty! I should at least give it a try!”
Self, it’s too dang cold where you live. No matter how pretty it is, it just ain’t gonna happen. And who knows if it even tastes good?
It can be hard to rein yourself in.
And you absolutely should be able to try new things (as long as it’s conducive to your zone, ie. don’t grow dragonfruit if you live in zone 3 like I do).
But how do you prioritize what to grow? How much to grow? And how much to experimentation room to allow?
I’m here to help you with that today
Use a point system to prioritize.
What do you eat most? (2 points)
Start by making a list of all the things you and your family are already growing/purchasing/eating on a regular basis. (Better yet, grab my free worksheets and fill them in there).
- I’ll give you an example: based on what we grow and put in the freezer or have canned from the previous year, we consume a lot of green beans, tomato products, garlic, onions, carrots, potatoes, peas, wild berries, and broccoli.
- Seasonally, we enjoy apples, lettuces/greens, garlic scapes, corn, etc.
If you HAD to pick just 3 things to grow, what would they be? (1 point for each)
If you HAD to eliminate 3, what would they be? (minus 1 point)
Which of those can be harvested in more than one season? (1 point)
- (ex./lettuce can be grown in spring, fall, and early winter, given the right protection. Most varieties turn bitter once it gets real hot out, but shade cloth can extend the life of your lettuce).
What preserves well? (1 point)
What doesn’t preserve well (or at all)? (minus 1 point)
What can’t you grow in your zone? (remove completely from your list)
If you have gardened in the past, what has given you the most trouble? (minus 1 point)
- (ex./corn is really hit-or-miss here, depending on the summer. If it’s good and hot, it does great. If it’s a mild summer, I end up wasting a ton of garden space trying to grow it). So I actually opted out of growing corn at all this past season and while I missed it (and we just so happened to have a really hot summer which would have been great for corn), it gave me the space to grow more of those priority crops.
What has grown really well for you? (1 point)
Now pick your highest-scoring Top 5.
- For me, these are: potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, garlic/onions, berries. So I know that I need to devote a larger portion of my growing space to these crops.
This isn’t to say you can’t have the others. But when it comes down to prioritizing the use of your space, you should be giving preference to these things: they grow in your zone, your family is consuming these things on a regular basis, they preserve well, they’ve performed well for you in the past, and some of them might even give you multiple harvests.
Now take these Top 5 (if you can’t adhere to 5, don’t stress. Pick your top 8 or 10 or 3. Whatever, don’t over-complicate it) and jot down how many times per week you and your family are eating these things (or how many times per week you would like to).
- Ex./We eat potatoes at least 3 times per week, green beans 2x per week, tomato products 2x per week, etc.).
- Ex./We know (after a few seasons of experimentation) that we need 125 pounds of potatoes per person in our family of 5. That means we need to produce 600 pounds of potatoes, by way of planting 30 pounds of seed potatoes.
Next determine how much growing space is needed for each of those crops. Sketch out your garden space with measurements. Fill in these crops into your growing space according to plants that get along with one another, while also keeping in mind those that don’t (ex./I try to keep my potatoes and tomatoes far apart).
Once you have given priority to these highest-scoring crops, you can now start delegating your space next to those crops that didn’t score as well, and to new varieties too.
I never recommend devoting a large space (unless space isn’t an issue) to an untried variety or experimental crop. Because failure of this crop could be detrimental to your season. Instead, grow a small trial crop and see how it does. If it turns out to grow well and it’s something your family eats/wants to eat regularly, be sure to add it in to next year’s priority list.
How many new things to try? That completely depends on your space. But because it can be easy to get over-excited about the new stuff, you might end up neglecting the crops that you actually know grows well for you and that you need.
So start with maybe 3 fun & new things. This is a manageable number. Keep a good record of planting date, how it grew (or didn’t) throughout the season, weigh out your yield, document the actual flavor of the end product. How does it compare to what you’re already growing? A perfect example for me was when I gave a lot of priority to growing a purple shelled pea. While they were gorgeous to look at (and easy to find on the vine!), their flavor was lackluster compared to my tried-and-true favorites. In the end, flavor is king. If pretty just plain old doesn’t taste good, then it doesn’t deserve a piece of prime real estate in your garden.
So, to wrap this all up in a nutshell for you:
Prioritize the plants that meet the following qualifications: (1) it grows in your zone, (2) your family eats it on a regular basis, (3) it can be preserved in a way that you actually like to eat it, (4) it has performed well in your garden in the past, and (5) you can harvest in more than one season.
After you’ve given priority to those crops, you can next add in other crops if you have the space to do so.
Finally, try out 3 new varieties per year. Don’t go crazy.
Did you grab your worksheets yet? They are super easy: just fill in, apply the point system, narrow down, and commit to your top selections. Click the image below to claim yours before you go ⬇️
I hope you feel confident going into the next growing season.
As always, I’ll be right here in your corner.