What’s worth growing in your backyard garden?
The best answer is to grow what you like to eat. Summer crops, which are planted from mid-April to late-May in Los Altos, include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, corn, basil and green beans. You can also plant some year-round leaf and root crops, such as lettuces, beets and carrots.
Other factors to consider include how much space you have to garden, how much time you want to spend and how much direct sun your garden plot gets. Roots and leaves require less sun, in general, than fruits, and most summer vegetable crops are (botanically, if not culinarily) fruits. For good production of fruiting crops, you need at least six hours of direct sun. You can get away with fewer hours for cherry tomatoes or small hot peppers, but you may not get much, if anything, from other fruiting crops.
Lettuces, conversely, benefit from some afternoon shade in the summer, and if your garden gets only three to five hours of direct sun, you can still plant lots of leafy greens and some root vegetables, as well as some herbs. If all you have is shade, you can grow ginger.
Reserve the hottest parts of your garden for eggplants and peppers, or plant them in containers so that you can place them in the warmest and sunniest part of your yard, such as next to a heat-radiating stone wall or driveway.
Automatic watering certainly saves time, but I like to hand-water because I can focus on the plants and catch any pest problems before they get out of hand. I water my squashes and cucumbers approximately once a week, and my tomatoes every 10-14 days. Depending on the size, containers need water every one to five days. Save water by incorporating compost into the soil and covering the soil with mulch.
If you need help prioritizing what to plant, a brochure on home vegetable gardening from the Washington State University Extension rates backyard crops as high, medium or low in three categories, based on research:
• Garden and store difference in quality
• Production per square feet
• Relative monetary value
If you’re looking for vegetables far superior to what you can find in a store, the best bets for backyard crops are asparagus, Swiss chard, sweet corn, edamame, green onions, peas, summer squash and tomatoes.
For the highest production per square foot, plant green beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, Swiss chard, kale, green onions, radishes, rhubarb, summer squash and turnips.
To save the most money on vegetables that you already like and buy, grow asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, edamame, eggplant, kale, leeks, leaf lettuce, green onions, peas, peppers, rhubarb, summer squash and tomatoes.
Watermelon, pumpkin and cabbage rated low on all three measures. Other vegetables assessed included bok choy, celery, kohlrabi, head lettuce, bulb onions, parsnips, potatoes, spinach and winter squash, all of which had a mix of low and medium ratings.