Figuring out what to grow is almost as much trouble as figuring out how to grow it, especially when you have a smaller space and not a lot of money. To help a little, this is the list of my top 5 vegetables I would grow if I had limited space and a tight budget.
Number 1: Green Pole Beans
Pole beans are amazing, they will keep growing, and producing beans, for as long as you want to pick them and the weather stays warm enough. Basically, the more you pick, the more you get. You need to provide something for them to climb up but one 8′ row, double-sided planting yielded me over 12 lbs last year. I could have kept picking but I had plenty of beans from other plantings.
If you grow the right type, you can also harvest them as dried beans for soups, stews and baked beans, after you have had your fill of green beans. Just leave them on the vine to dry and harvest before you have a freeze. Good multi-purpose beans I have grown include Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans and Scarlett Runner Beans (flowers are also edible).
You can grow quite a large number of beans on a teepee trellis set up. 5 or more branches or bamboo poles tied at the top make a good trellis in a smaller foot print.
Number 2: Spinach or Kale
This is second place in my Top 5 Vegetables to Grow this year because both of these greens are very nutrient-dense for their size. Both freeze well, work in salads and can handle a frost, making them a decent late-season crop. Both can also be harvested young, as single leaves for salad greens or even younger as microgreens. I had three kale plants last year and they provided plenty for stews, salads, dried, and the freezer. I planted them in Spring and harvested all season, until early December. My spinach, I plant in spring mainly, I leave the kale for fall.
With a tight budget, just choose one or the other. I prefer Lacinato Kale because it’s less tough to eat and grows so long with little attention. Low maintenance for me. While kale plants grow pretty big and would need a very large container to hold them, spinach does grow beautifully in containers.
Number 3: Onions/garlic
Many recipes have one, or more, of these in them, making them a good storage staple. Onions can be planted in a relatively small space and you can harvest them from the time they grow a stem to when they are fully grown, gradually thinning your planting to 4″ apart. I like to grow mine in blocks – ending up with 2’x2′ block, yielding 18 full-size onions and 30-40 green onions as I thin. Onions can be diced and dried or frozen, pickled, kept whole if properly cured and a storage type (they will last for months).
Garlic is similar to onions, spacing is the same, you can get 18 full-size garlic from a 2’x2′ space but you can also get garlic scapes (flower stem) which is a bit of a delicacy around here, plus green garlic, around 20 of those. Like the onions, you can plant them closer and then thin as they grow. Garlic can also be dried, pickled, fermented or stored whole. If you grow extra garlic, you can use it for seed the next year (you plant the clove), making it very cost-effective.
Ideally, you’d grow both, but if space and budget are an issue, chose one. I’d chose garlic.
Number 4: Winter Squash
These are great to grow, as, on a per-pound basis, they provide quite a few calories. Winter squash also store pretty well, can be frozen or canned and you can eat as savoury or sweet treats. They take a fair amount of room to grow but you can tie them to a trellis if you support the weight of the fruit (tights work great for that). I love heirloom varieties, look for good storage types or just grow your favorites.
Number 5: Tomatoes (if you don’t like tomatoes, then peppers)
Last but by no means least on my Top 5 Vegetables to Grow this year are Tomatoes! Tomatoes (and peppers) are some of the most expensive produce items you can buy on a per pound basis. We use a lot of tomato products – from sauce, diced and whole tomatoes and tomato paste. Then we have salsa, ketchup, tomato soup, canned chilli and pasta sauces. I use a LOT and it gets expensive.
For cooking tomatoes, I grow Amish Paste Tomatoes – they are HUGE and cut down on my workload, usually, I also grow several other paste types for added flavor. Heirloom varieties for fresh eating and salsa, sometimes a cherry tomato too (usually Sungold). I grow different varieties most years, so find ones you know and love that suit your uses.
I hope that gives you some ideas on why I grow certain things and what my reasoning is behind them. I try to grow what we use a lot of, that will be the most versatile for us and with a lot of options for storage and preservation for later use. When you are just starting out, my list of top 5 vegetables to grow in a limited space on a tight budget is a guide for what is possible.
If you need some ideas on how to get your garden started, try the Simple Guide To Starting a Food Garden on a Budget. If you are confused about what can be direct-seeded when, check out the Garden Planning Calendar on the National Garden Association website – it’s FREE.
The most important thing to grow? What you, and your loved ones, will eat and enjoy eating. That’s what we do and it works every time.