Having a vegetable garden is a great way to feed your family—and sometimes your entire neighborhood! While some plants provide enough produce for a few meals, others will net copious harvests throughout the season or all at once, giving you the opportunity to freeze, can, or pressure cook for storage. If your goal is to plant the highest-producing plants you can find, start with the list below.
There are also many varieties of tomatoes and the varietal you choose depends heavily on your preferences. The glorious thing about tomatoes is that they are delicious fresh off the vine and they are versatile. Since processing them for storage only requires a hot water bath (like jam) instead of a pressure cooker, you can line your pantry shelves with canned whole tomatoes, ketchup, salsa, tomato sauce, tomato paste, pizza sauce, and more.
Garlic is a great crop because it's a “plant it and forget it” kind of situation. Plus, each clove of garlic turns into a new bulb, so with a healthy start you can keep your crop going. Plant garlic cloves in the fall and allow them to stay in the ground over the winter, pulling them in the spring. You can also plant them early in the spring and harvest in late fall to net two complete harvests per year.
There are many varieties of lettuce including red leaf, green leaf, iceburg, and romaine. They are all cool-weather crops, meaning they grow well in the spring and the fall, in between freezing temps and hot summer days. One package of seeds will produce many plants. Since lettuce doesn’t store well, stagger your plantings so you have a fresh crop through the growing season.
4. Green Onion
Like most onions, green onions are easy to grow. The bonus is that you can grow them from your existing supply. Simply put the root base of a green onion in a glass of water for a few days and then transfer to soil outdoors. Once established, green onions are hearty and can even continue to thrive during mild winters. Cut your crop directly from the garden and watch it grow back again.
5. Summer Squash
Summer squash earned its name for good reason—it will not tolerate cold weather. Plant your squash in full sun during the spring. Depending on your region, harvest the squash anytime between July and October when young, tender fruit develop.
Snap peas, sugar peas, and English peas are all friends to the backyard gardener. All peas prefer cool weather, so they perform well alongside carrots and lettuce during the early spring. Because of the rambling vines, expect to provide support as they grow.
Bush or pole beans are another prolific crop for your garden. Not only do plants provide a lot of beans, but the plants themselves do not require a lot of space in your garden to make it happen. Bush beans are more compact, while pole beans will require trellises or other supports as they grow. Plant after all risk of frost has passed and the ground has evaporated some of the moisture from winter. Harvest the beans before the seeds inside become plump, about 50-65 days after planting.
If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ve likely been offered cucumbers from a co-worker drowning in their harvest. It’s a sign of just how prolific this plant can be. Don’t put your cucumbers in the ground too early. Make sure it has been at least two weeks since the last frost because cucumbers like it hot. Once cucumbers become mature, monitor and pick them every few days or they will quickly overripen and taste bitter. If you are overrun by cucumbers, it’s time to take up pickle making!
One package of carrot seeds can provide rows and rows of carrots. The nice thing about carrots is that they are the perfect candidate for intercropping with other cool weather crops. That means you can plant them closely to shallow-rooted plants like lettuce and peas because they don’t rely on the same resources. Carrots take 60-80 days to mature, but if you stagger your plantings three weeks apart, you can have an ongoing supply of freshly pulled veggies throughout the season.
Although peppers can be finicky in damp or cool weather conditions, a hot summer can net a massive amount of all types of peppers. From habanero to sweet green peppers, all peppers can be frozen for later use. Allow a long growing season during the prime heat in your area. Although sweet peppers can ripen in as little as 60 days, hot peppers can take up to 150. In most areas, you will start seeds indoors and gradually introduce the plants to outdoor temperatures above 60 degrees a few hours daily and increase the time as the weather warms.
Another root vegetable that grows abundantly and stores well, turnips can be used both for the greens on top and the roots below the soil. In fact, when the plants are a few inches tall and it’s time to thin them out, the entire plant can be eaten as greens. Turnips are another cool weather crop that should be planted in the spring or fall. Allow around 70 days of growth to harvest before the first frost.