Last week we introduced the idea of planting just enough for your needs, rather than filling your vegetable patch simply because you can.
Some Common Vegetables: Space & Yield
Artichoke (globe) – Hardly a staple vegetable, but more of an appetizer or salad ingredient, to ensure sufficient hearts to make a salad you will need 20 to 30 bushes growing simultaneously. The bushes are semi-perennial in that they last for about three seasons ~ if you can protect the plants from frost and the tap-roots from moles. On the plus side, the plants bear throughout the season so you are assured of a constant supply over a relatively long period.
Beans – A staple vegetable, easy to grow in summer, and the pods can be eaten raw or boiled, and preserved by being frozen or pickled. With a relatively long (a few weeks, at least) harvesting season beans are among the most economical vegetables to grow and a good runner bean plant will yield 40 – 50 pods over the season, so no more than three or four strong plants will suffice for the average family. But, beans grow quickly in summer so succession planting is recommended to ensure a constant supply. Beans are also ideally suited to small spaces.
Beetroot – A staple vegetable that when young provides colourful and crunchy leaves for salads and, as it matures, its bulb for cooking or pickling. Not many other vegetables can be used in this way. Beetroot are also easy to grow and have a long season, so can be succession-planted to ensure a constant supply of salad leaves and, later, roots. If you want to pickle beetroot you will need four or five roots per one litre Consol jar (they pack in quite tightly).
Brinjals (also called Aubergine or Eggplant)–You are unlikely to use more than one brinjal fruit per meal for four and a single plant will produce four or five fruits over a season which will give you an idea of how many plants to grow, depending on your love of brinjals. Better used fresh, brinjal can be frozen, even if it looks like dog-sick when thawed and is good only for stews.
Broccoli – A not universally-liked vegetable that is nonetheless the most versatile and user-friendly of the Brassicas. Broccoli florets can be boiled from fresh, used in stews and soups and frozen for later use. The plants can be harvested two or three times during their growing season and are quite easy to grow. Five or six plants, succession planted over a season, will see you serving broccoli at least once a week, and doing a little freezing on the side.
Brussels Sprouts – Another unloved, but sensible brassica. It can be repeatedly harvested like broccoli, and frozen. Like broccoli, five or six plants will suffice. However, unlike broccoli, it is not as easy to grow successfully.
Cabbage – The most wasteful and nonsensical of all staple vegetables. It smells awful when being cooked, and looks and tastes no better. And very few people like it. Not surprisingly it rarely makes its way on to restaurant menus. The plant is harvested in its entirety and even a medium cabbage is more than a family can eat in one sitting and while it can be pickled it cannot be frozen, meaning that more cabbage goes stale in refrigerators and vegetable racks than any other single species. On the plus side, it is easy to grow, but how many meals of grey stinky slimy boiled or fried cabbage can you stomach?
Carrots – Versatile in use and easy to grow, carrots can be eaten raw or cooked, and can be frozen but there’s no need for this as they grow year round, if sensibly succession-planted every fortnight.
Cauliflower – A brassica species that is marginally more liked and useful than cabbage, but only a little more sensible to grow. It can be eaten raw or boiled, or it can be pickled and, unlike cabbage, can be frozen. But you still have to harvest the whole plant and so to make the most of it will have to freeze, pickle or liquidise what you don’t use at the first sitting.
Chillis – Unless you are seriously into hot and spicy food you are unlikely to use more than one or two medium chillis per dish. With 20 or 30 pods per plant you will need no more than one or two plants per season, as the ripe pods can be picked and dried for winter use. Or they can be pickled.
Cucumber – Useful for soup, salads and garnish, cucumber can also be pickled, but not frozen. One good plant should give you six or so fruits over a short season.
Gem Squash – The smallest of the full-size cucurbits, none of which are really suited to small gardens because of their extensive growing habits. Nevertheless, you should be able to harvest five or six squashes per plant. Can’t be frozen, but can be stored for a while.
Leeks – Mildly onion-flavoured leeks are mostly used in soups and stews. They grow compactly and while they can be frozen there’s no need as one can leave them in the ground and harvest the as required.
Marrow – More extensive in growth habit than gems but less so than pumpkins, marrows grow to just about any size but remain tasteless regardless. Really good only for soups and stews, as a filler, marrow can be frozen, but why?
Mealies – You can boil them, you can roast them, or you can dry them and make samp or meal. One good mealie plant will yield four good cobs.
Onions – An essential cooking ingredient. No need to preserve them: the hard-skinned varieties such as Australian Brown can be stored throughout the dormant season so anybody with an extensive garden can easily grow a full year-round supply. Serving: Just about every recipe calls for the addition of onion in some form or another, usually about one medium onion for a dish for four. So, assuming you are cooking say 350 dinners a year, you need to grow 350-odd medium-to-large onions in your vegetable garden. That will be achieved with between 24 and 35 linear metres of onion plantings.
Peas – Because of the hassle of shelling them and the fact that there’s really not much to choose between a good frozen pea and a home-grown one, peas have fallen out of favour as a home-grown vegetable, which is a pity. Preparing sufficient peas really isn’t a lot of work for a four-serving dinner ~ certainly it will take not much longer to shell the peas than to peel the spuds or chop up the carrots ~ and the benefit id additional nutrition and taste over the bought frozen type is really worthwhile. The excess harvest can also be easily and successfully frozen. Peas grow on bushes, much like beans, with four to eight peas per pod and they can be harvested over a few weeks as required.
Peppers – Good fresh for salads and often used cooked as well. Grown on bushes like their cousins the chillies, with a good bush producing five to eight over a season.
Potato – The staple starch for many. How many you use per meal will depend on their size. Potatoes stored for any length of time deteriorate greatly and are probably no more nutritious than a serving of boiled newsprint. Home-growing spuds can be hugely rewarding as a freshly harvested tuber tastes infinitely better than anything bought in a shop, but it can also be heartbreakingly disappointing if the crop fails: Ask the Irish.
Pumpkin – An extensive grower not suited to small gardens, pumpkins can be prepared in many ways, but the size of an individual pumpkin will inevitably mean one will only use a portion for a single meal. Providing sufficient for a year-round supply is easy as they are simply stored whole in a dry place, and are ready to use when required. Much the same applies to other hard-skinned varieties such as Hubbard squash and butternut.
Spinach – Along with its poor relation Swiss chard, spinach cooks away to nothing, so what looks like a mountain of crisp, fresh leaves becomes a little pot full on the stove. Although it can be cooked and frozen spinach and chard grows just about year-round so can be harvested as required.
Tomato – The ultimate summer vegetable, full-size tomatoes are good raw and chopped or sliced in salads, or cooked in a variety of ways. Bite-size cocktail tomatoes are ideal as a snack or in salads.