How To Decide What to Grow in Your Backyard Garden

backyard garden space planning

Planning is an essential step in making the most out of your limited backyard garden space

As the January doldrums pass through in 31 achingly long days, February appears and calls out to the merry lot of backyard gardeners that their planning season is here.

Seed catalogs start weighing down the mailman and garden supply companies begin pitching their new products guaranteed to either revolutionize comfort or make weeding easier than ever.

I don’t know about you but I gobble it all up. Can’t wait for February.

Every gardener is naturally curious, when we hear about a new Blonde Cucumber or Violetta Cauliflower our excitement grows as we consider where it will fit into our diverse garden portfolio.

But this distraction can be tricky, since time, space and effort are in limited supply for the weekend farmer. After years of growing ‘fun stuff’ I realized I needed a system of checks and balances to ensure our family wouldn’t just have a cool garden, full of colors and varying species, but a functional one that we actually ate.

Our system is based around three simple questions, because there is no need to over complicate things:

  • How much space does this plant take up relative to the edible parts it produces?
  • Is it cost-effective to grow vs. buy?
  • How healthy is it and does the family eat it?

Each question gets a score from 1-5 with 5 being the best, so if a plant scores in the 12-15 range pretty good chance it’s worth growing.

Lets break down these questions in a little more detail:

How much space does this plant take up relative to the edible parts it produces?

We love Broccoli. The kids eat it without complaint, it’s healthy, and to buy it in the grocery store is very expensive while a pack of 300 organic seeds is only about $2.50. Sounds like a winner, right? Wrong.

Broccoli takes up way too much of my limited garden space to grow and these huge plants don’t produce much all that much edible veg, whichearns Broccoli a one in this part of our scoring system. Even if it scores a 5 in the two others, it usually falls out of the running for our backyard garden space planning.

Sorry Di Cicco maybe next year.

Now let’s analyze everyone’s favorite – Tomatoes. One Tomato plant may take up well over 3 sq ft of garden space (when you factor in the air space necessary to keep your plants healthy and your fruit ripening) but will deliver you an abundance of fruit you can pick throughout the season.

Tomatoes deliver the goods – even though they are a big plant, they still get a 4 or 5 on based on how much they produce in their space.

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Is it cost-effective to grow vs buy?

Growing things that are really expensive in the grocery store or aren’t always that easy to find organically just makes sense.

backyard garden space planning formula

We love home grown Broccoli, but it takes up far too much space per crown to make it worthwhile in our backyard garden space planning formula

Take Red Peppers for instance, $2.50/each in the grocery store. Each! Growing pepper plants is a pretty easy endeavor, and every globe they produce is worth about $2.50 in your pocket – give that veg a 5.

Now let’s take the discussion to Carrots – again, a food we love and use in abundance – but I can get a 5 lb bag of organic Carrots at my grocery store any day of the week for about $3.99. Growing 5 lbs of carrots is going to take up a lot of space, time and effort on my part – when I can get them cheap and easy through our produce delivery or the local grocery store.

Of course, out of the garden Carrots taste better and look cooler, but that argument can be made for every vegetable – they all taste better out of the backyard garden! We have to employ some metrics to help us decide which things are most worthy of our limited space, whether or not growing a vegetable is cost-effective is a smart measuring tool.

Carrots get just a 2 in this category.

How healthy is it and does the family eat enough of it?

If you grow it, they will come.

That was always my attitude about exposing my kids to various vegetables. Once they see the process unfold, know where it came from and participated in the entire life cycle they won’t be able to resist trying it (so the theory went).

Then I grew Kohlrabi.

It looked super cool (like an alien brain should) and I know it has a mild, almost sweet taste which I thought our crew would enjoy. Not so much. It failed miserably. What was the point of growing it if no one’s going to eat it! Give it a 1.

Take Swiss Chard, one of the healthiest vegetables around…and the family will eat it in all kinds of forms. Winner! Step right up Swiss Chard you get a 5 in this part of our backyard garden planning formula.

Don’t Take the Fun Out!

Before you start calling me the grinch of backyard gardens who takes the fun out of growing and trying new things, realize I have one large bed dedicated to nothing more than fun and experimenting. It’s a 8×10 foot bed, the largest in my backyard garden space, and I carve it into a square foot garden where I test things out.

This year I’m trying things like Rampicante squash, Chamomile, Tomatillos, Parsnips, Broccoli Raab and Fava Beans. Random I know, but fun to see new things and learn how they grow in our conditions here in Colorado.

Some will fail, some will succeed, but I know in the end I’ll have fun, especially since I know the rest of my garden is producing the best possible mix for our families harvest.


How To Decide What to Grow in Your Backyard Garden
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How To Decide What to Grow in Your Backyard Garden
Deciding how to maximize the limited space you have in your background garden can be tough - but we have a formula to make it easier!