Gardening Goals And Edible Expectations

My friend Fruit Lady is brand new to veggie growing. This spring she put in several good-sized raised beds, but doesn’t care how much she harvests. She grows vegetables so that she and her kids can learn about the process. Really, it’s mostly for the kids, and anything picked is bonus.

That’s not how it works in my garden.

No, my goal is to squeeze the maximum possible yield from the space I have, in order to minimize how much off-site produce we buy. I’m one of those “go big or go home” types, so this goal works for me. My garden is a place to learn, and my kids are always welcome and do a lot with me, but my 10 month old “learns” that we do not pull mommy’s favorite kale out of the ground 5 minutes after she has transplanted it through a swift reprimand from me.

This ain’t no discovery garden.

Rutabaga: a serious winter food for serious gardens

When I visit Fruit Lady’s garden, I have to take deep breaths and switch over to Veggie Camp mode. I have to remind myself that she has different goals in her garden. I start to get twitchy, telling her to thin her chard, or pointing out that her lettuce has bolted and she should replant the space with some fall crops asap.

Really, I must be quite obnoxious, and it’s a miracle she has me over at all. But Fruit Lady is a good friend, and she knows my quirks and rolls her eyes and tells me, “The garden is doing great! The girls picked some carrots and raspberries and had fun. Besides, my family doesn’t eat as much as yours does – if I picked as many vegetables as you do, they’d go to waste.”

Where she sees an experiment and a living classroom that benefits her children, I see under-utilized space. Conversely, when she visits my garden, I know she sees work…and a lot of it. Fair enough, we have different goals.

When you plan your garden, it is good to know what your goals are.

Do you want a peaceful place to pick a head of lettuce every now and then, or maybe a tomato for a salad? Go with a small container garden! Do you want something fun for kids? Bean teepee and giant sunflowers! Do you want something that will require minimal work over time? No problem – herbs! berries! permaculture! Do you want total urban self-sufficiency on 1/4 acre? Hope you like rabbit, potatoes and kale, my friend.

My goal is not better than my friend’s. But it is different, and it requires different different planning, action and commitment.

Because maximum production year-round from the space I have is my goal, I focus on succession planting, intercropping and season extension. I put extra effort into getting 3 more weeks of zucchini (a folly I usually regret by September but always repeat the next year) and grow a lot of crops most people never even buy: rutabaga, kale, savoy cabbage. I experiment with ways to jump start beans and peas. I overwinter hardy greens and cover crop with spinach.

If my goal were to grow a garden that would allow my to preserve enough to feed my family from the pantry through winter, my planning and planting would look different. If my goal was to maximize the financial value of the crops I harvested, my planning would look different still.

There’s a lot of ways to get where you wanna go, but having some idea where exactly that is always helps. What is your garden goal?


  1. says

    Great question Erica! I realize I don't actually know the answer! I want it all- eat a lot of homegrown year-round, preserve a lot, let the kiddo learn and minimal effort. On my city lot. Hmm. It has me thinking though…I should clarify for myself. My planting randomness could make more sense. =) I can tell others what to do/how/when…but when it comes to our space I want it all. And 'it all' doesn't make sense for our space/time. Some clarification is in order I think.

  2. says

    My goals are all of the above! This warm growing season (coming soon to Australia!) instead of going crazy with the 6 million varieties, I am focusing on what I know has grown well the last 2 years, what I know we actually eat, and also what stores or preserves well. I want good yields, I want good quality heirloom produce, I want to increase my knowledge & skills, I want to teach my kids, but of course, there will still be some experimentation going on (it's always an experiment really, and edible in a bonus!)

  3. says

    My garden goal is to START one. We're planning on building a few raised beds here this fall so things will be ready to start experimenting next spring. Not sure how we'll do in this extreme Vegas heat since the most I've ever grown is tomatoes and zucchini…but we want to try and learn. Thanks for all of your inspiration!

  4. says

    My goal the remainder of the summer is to make up for all the veggies that dried to a stinking crisp! I can't imagine how much water was "wasted" on crops that never produced.

    Out to plant some cabbage and beans since it's only 92 degrees outside (instead of 115!)

  5. says

    It is all about tomatoes, for me. I have 24 plants as can and freeze sauce, juice , salsa, diced and whole. We use tomatoes in something almost everyday. Back in my better days I planted wide variety of vegetables, but now that I can't even get out to my garden and only watch it through the window and depend on others to plant, harvest, it is all about tomatoes for the year. That to me is now the most important. All else is gravy, as they say. I have zucchini for eating and freezing and giving away. I have cucumbers for eating…(I have a "cucumber guy " for pickles…he brought them out last night so I could make bread and butter.)

    I have asparagus which we enjoy in season and I freeze all the tough ends to make a batch or two of soup later. I can live without asparagus year round, but not tomatoes. I freeze at least 12 quarts of my rhubarb. Over the last 10 years I have made connections for most of the fruit I need for jams, jellies and pies. I just got 40 pounds of Michigan blueberries…most I've frozen for pies and pancakes and buckles all year. My neighbor will bring over the grapes for jelly after she picks them. My raspberry guy called me at work yesterday and said he picked his fallbearers that day, so I picked them up on way home. My 20 pounds of frozen Door County tart cherries come in fall. What I can't go to now comes to me. In fall I will I contact various vendors at the farmer's market and they will have my pie pumpkins ready and my honey for the year. My maple syrup for the year is waiting to be picked up at a farm north of here.

    So my garden is down to 5 items, plus herbs on the patio….I can no longer be self-sufficient but I still do what I can and my family still eats well. I love reading about what everyone else is doing.

  6. Beth says

    I'd love to feed us well enough that we can get rid of the CSA. (Which I love, but dammit, I can grow all that stuff, right?) This is where I'm stuck: how do people learn all that stuff? Why is my CSA sending me multiple cucumbers each week (I think from the hoop house, which says something), where my cucumbers are just blooming? Why can't I ever get anything to start from seed outdoors, no matter how diligently I water them? Why can't I start seeds *indoors* successfully? That's what I get stuck on — how people learn all the stuff that you put in your monthly "to do in the garden" posts.

  7. says

    My gardening goals and struggles are similar to Beth's. I want to quit our CSA. They are great, but I just want to do it ourselves… be on our own! Each year we manage to squeeze in more crops, get more efficient here and there. However, I can not keep seedlings alive indoors for anything! All the leeks I started and transplanted out this year, and there are seven (SEVEN! leeks) still struggling and tiny in the garden. I know we frown on comparison, but just as I think my kale is doing great I see your kale and sigh. I loved the virtual homestead tour, but it also showed me just how far I have to go.

    This year was our first real success with spring and fall planting. We usually have amazing summer crops – in a bit early, bigger sooner, harvesting longer. But despite planning for it, the spring stuff always sneaks up on us and we usually forget to get our peas and green started early enough.

    We actually planned and *remembered* to put things in at the proper times this spring. We got amazing lettuce for the first time ever – enough to share! But I didn't think about the possible overlap of the spring crops into summer, thus a lot of our summer things didn't go into the ground on time.

    When I am sitting here at the beginning of August, still waiting on our first zucchini, all I feel like is a failure. After 8 years in the garden, how did I screw up the summer crops? It's the first time, and it will be the last that I make this mistake. I'm trying to cut myself some slack for the year, but I have to admit, this is a hard one for me to be at peace with (not that I have a choice). ;)

    The best thing about gardening though – I learn something every year and I know that I can try again. :)

  8. says

    My goal is to grow and put up enough food for a whole year for myself, my husband, and two grown kids, when they visit. Happily, we have been able to do just this for the past 30 years, with kids here for 2/3 of it.

    My goal now is to share the knowledge we have gleaned over these thirty years. (We learned from books, magazines, and Organic Farming Conferences here in New England.)

    To this end, I've started a blog, called "Preserving the Harvest," at this URL:

    The blog is already expanding to cover growing techniques. So please visit, and follow, and if you have the knowledge for how I can get my blog "out there," I welcome your suggestions…

  9. says

    It's about Greens all year round. It's about winter crops. It's about storage crops. It's about permanent edibles. And edible landscaping.
    It's about extra for family and friends.

    But it's also about individual plots for the grandkids for their experimentation – and so if the leftover popcorn kernels didn't grow, that is a learning experiment for the grandson in his plot :)

    But it's also about relaxation and enjoyment :)

  10. says

    PS – SWISS CHARD… about the easiest plant ever to grow – just keep the tops cut so it doesn't bolt – and it will grow for two years – GREAT in the dead of winter when you want greens! Lots easier than spinach and very very versatile!

  11. says

    This year I will plan better. I moved into the home in the summer of 2010 with a minimal garden in place. I was still job hunting and getting situated in the community, so I didn't take the time to plan out my garden, prepare the ground (like the fertilizer I am putting down now for spring) and really take the time to maximize my useable space with things I really need and not just let a few of the old things continue (like the overabundance of mint!). I want to maximize the space I have, but also take into consideration what I can actually handle since we both work full time jobs.

  12. says

    My garden goals are… mixed. I’m in an apartment with no balcony (ground floor), so my “garden” is currently a bunch of Jade plants on my window sill. There’s an under-used garden bed right outside my window that, I suspect, the supers would be more than happy to turn over to my care. YAY! BUT: it’s heavily shaded, gets used by the neighbourhood cats as a litter box, and is probably contaminated with lead (it’s an old building, and we’re near enough to the highway that, even though the prevailing winds blow the car exhaust *away* from us… that’s still a lot of decades of leaded gas to deal with).

    So let’s say my garden goals for *this* year (2013 – I’m commenting on an old post, I know) are:

    In the front bed: plant ornamentals that are good at soaking up toxins (ornamental cabbage and siberian irises, most likely, as sunflowers will not handle that degree of shade – probably sweet peas and morning glories as well).

    For food: interspurse the ornamentals with containers, in-which I will grow kale, ruby chard, herbs, and maybe tomatoes. If I’m very lucky, maybe I can grow a “nutty butter” (bush-habbit mini-butternut type) squash as well.

    Longer-term garden goals, however, include growing enough winter squash, cukes, tomatoes, kale, ruby chard, pole beans, herbs, and – if I’m lucky – raspberries, blueberries, sour cherries and maybe pears, to supply my wee household with at least half our fruits and veggies year-round.
    The other 50% (or less) I plan to get from CSA boxes or the Foodland Ontario section of the grocery store because, seriously, I’m in a very urban area with limited yard-space even for those who have yards. I’m not going to try to grow stuff that I won’t necessarily eat a LOT of, or that won’t keep well, or that I could just as easily let someone else – like someone who knows how to grow sweet peppers really well – handle.

  13. Allison says

    I know I am a couple years late on this post but between reading this blog (among others that are similarly focused) I was able to better clarify what I want to get out of my productive gardening. I usually plant a lot of tomatoes (wait, my husband HATES tomatoes, and I let too many go bad), and bell peppers (wait, he doesn’t like those either), cucumbers (I can only eat so many pickles)…then it clicked…I should really just plant the things we will both eat! So this year it is apple trees, more raspberry canes, hardy kiwi, potatoes and onions, most of which will continue to feed us for years to come (hopefully)!

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