We’re used to having access to whatever fruits and vegetables we want when we want them. Sometimes this affects the growing decisions made by first-time gardeners. If I LOVE spinach, why shouldn’t I start a new batch every 30 days all summer long? If watermelon is absolutely my #1 favorite fruit, I should be determined to grow at least one, right?!
Not necessarily. A bit more strategy, research, and adaptation to the ebb and flow of each season is needed in order to take advantage of small backyard gardens and containers. If you wait all year for your first pea harvest in June, they will taste better than if you ate them all year long. And then, as soon as the thrill of eating peas starts to wane, strawberries, head lettuce, and cilantro will be ready. If you eat seasonally, meals are appreciated and stay exciting all year round.
The Crop Availability Guide, produced by the MA Department of Agriculture gives the viewer some sense about when produce is available in Massachusetts, but this still isn’t telling the whole story. Some plants can be grown in the middle of the summer, but farmers must use special techniques and extra effort to keep them cool and evenly watered so that they can thrive. Similarly, some plants can be encouraged to grow despite cool temperatures with added equipment and cost, even though they really like growing later in the summer. These efforts are worth it for seasoned gardeners and farmers who enjoy the challenge of extending their seasons. For first time gardeners, however, my main advice is to make your job simple! After a few years, your adjustments and adaptations will allow you to grow more of what you like when you want it. Below, find tips on plants that grow well in small spaces and the best months to start them in.
SEASONS: Consider only planting spinach in spring and fall, using Chard as a heat tolerant substitute to get you through the middle of the summer. Lettuce and cilantro can get through the summer in shadier corners of the garden while tomatoes, peppers, and basil love the heat and hate the cold soil and cool nights of May and April!
- April: Peas (harvest in June), Lettuce (harvest in May/June), Spinach (harvest in May/June), Arugula (harvest May/June)
- May: Lettuce, Spinach, Kale (harvest June-Nov), Chard (harvest June-Nov), Kohlrabi (harvest July), Cilantro (harvest June-July), Dill (harvest June-July), Onions (harvest July-Aug), Carrots (harvest July), Parsley (harvest July-Oct)
- June: Beans (harvest July-Aug), Cucumbers (harvest July-Aug), Tomatoes (harvest July-Oct), Basil (harvest July-Sept), Marigolds, Peppers (harvest July-Sept)
- Late August: In shadier or cool gardens, try starting a fall batch of peas, spinach, cilantro or lettuce!
SPACE: consider planting the first option rather than the second to save space in your small garden!
- Cucumbers, trellised vertically vs. Zucchini
- Pole beans, trellised vertically vs. Bush Beans
- Grow greens, herbs, and tomatoes at home vs. corn, melon, and pumpkins …you can supplement your harvest by buying these space hogs from the farmer’s market
Do you have tips for those of us trying to make home gardening as easy as possible? Did you have any early learning experiences in your garden that you can share with novice gardeners? What unusual crops grow well in your backyard or container gardens?