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What to plant in your garden: Tips and advice.

Updated on July 17, 2012

What to grow?

For most people, gardening is a hobby - they do it because they love being outside, watching things grow, and enjoying the freshness of produce just picked. Many would prefer not to overthink it, and that's awesome. Sometimes that's how you discover that plants don't always follow the rule book, and that's exciting.

One time I took a stroll around my friend's garden, and said in surprise "Why do you have tomatoes? They're not supposed to grow this time of year!"

My friend shrugged "Oh really? I didn't know. Just had some at lunch."

Your garden can surprise you, and it should be a place to play and experiment. But if you're looking to maximize the profit, yield, or health benefits derived from your garden, doing a little planning can make you more successful, and ensure that you return eagerly to the soil year after year.


What to Plant to Maximize your Profits

Good, high quality, organic fresh produce is not cheap at the grocery store. If you're looking to maximize your monetary savings by having your own garden, it's worthwhile to research the prices of seeds and transplants compared to store prices of the fruit or vegetables. Some plants are extremely profitable because they are perennials and yield fruit year after year, or they grow back after picking in the same season, such as salad greens.

See the chart below. Seed packet prices are the company Johnny's Seed 2012 prices. The cost of transplants are based on my research of what local farmers are selling the transplants for. The "cost at the store" is based on Safeway's prices.

What's It Worth?

Seed Packet/# Seeds
Cost of Transplant
Cost at Store
8 pennies
10-15 lbs per plant
$2.99 - $3.99/lb
Fresh Basil
3.5 pennies
0.5 -1 lb per plant
15 pennies
3 - 5 lb per plant
Salad Greens
less than 0.5 pennies
over 2 lbs (cut and come again)
Green beans
2 pennies
2.5 - 3 lbs per 5 ft row, ~7 plants
less than a penny
10 - 15 lbs per plant
2 - 3 lbs/plant, per season
1.5 lbs/plant, per season
Source: Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture

Important Services provided by the Legume Family

Crops in the Legume family will give you two services for the price of one: food and fertilization.

Legumes are "pod-bearing plants" like peas and beans, which are foods high in protein. Small white nodules that house beneficial bacteria form on the roots of legumes. These bacteria "fix" nitrogen, that is they take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a useable form for plants in the soil. Since Nitrogen is a key limiting nutrient, this is an invaluable service (and it means less of a need to buy manure or add compost to your soil). Legume roots reach deep and wide - up to 30 feet! - thus they are also effective at mobilizing nutrients in the soil and providing soil structure for better water catchment and drainage. (Source: McDowell, Forrest C. and Tricia Clark-McDowell.)

What to Plant to Maximize Nutrition

If you like to eat it, then it's a good vegetable to plant.

But nutritionally, some vegetables will give you more bang for their buck. I for one, always choose spinach salads over iceberg lettuce because it gives you hundreds of times more nutrients per calorie.

You don't have to own livestock to grow your own protein intake. Many people forget that there is actually a lot of protein in fruits and vegetables. Below is a chart comparing the produce with the highest protein content per calorie. (Source: McDowell, Forrest C. and Tricia Clark-McDowell.)

Protein Content per Calorie

Soy beans
Split peas

Companion Planting: Maximizing Yield

Several special techniques exist for maximizing yield beyond increasing inputs. Biodynamic farming, for example, times crop planting according to the movements of the planets and moon, because it is believed to maximize root growth and crop health.

Another very effective and proven method of maximizing yields with no added inputs, is Companion Planting, the planting in close proximity of plants that "like" each other. Though it's still somewhat mysterious why, it's clear to gardeners that certain plants grow better when interspersed together. See the chart below for plants that are buddies, and plants that disdain each other.

Note: Marigolds and Nasturtiums are flowers that all veggies and fruit adore! They are the Type O of companion plants, and also serve as natural insecticides.

Plant With
Not With
carrots, cabbage, potatoes
onion family
potatoes, celery, onions
tomatoes, pole beans
lettuce, peas
dill, tomatoes
beets, onions, lettuce, herbs
pole beans
carrots, turnips, beans, radishes
corn, beans
carrots, basil, parsley, herbs
potatoes, corn

Moral of the Hub: Grow Your Appetite

The Moral of the Hub however is still to have fun! Know your companions, count your dollars, and eat, eat, eat!


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    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 5 years ago

      Ah perfect! I've just recently started planning my garden for next year, this will come in handy ^_^ voted and shared

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Lots of great info here, especially for those of us who aren't so garden-savvy, like me. I belong to an organic farm so I don't have to "worry my pretty little head" about the details - I leave all that to the experts. Plus I have a brown thumb! Voted up and useful and interesting

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I've never seen gardening choices made based on these factors, which is CRAZY, because this all makes so much sense! Should I ever design my own garden, I'll definitely be taking the relative value of each food I might grow (as compared to what I'd pay in the store) and shall be considering nutritional details, too.

      I'm so glad you gave legumes a moment in the spotlight, too! They really are magnificent multi-taskers! Thanks for the awesome garden guide.

    • jentaylorsc profile image

      jentaylorsc 5 years ago

      Very interesting Hub on gardening. I have tried my hand at gardening a few times with mixed results. However, I like the way you have planned it out to offer specific advice on what to plant and why. Thanks for the wonderful information.

    • sjwigglywoo profile image

      sjwigglywoo 5 years ago from UK

      Some good sound advice on making the most of growing your own produce. I have planted a few fruit bushes the past year as these are expensive to buy. Hopefully nest year we will get out first crop, that is if they chickens keep off the fruit garden!

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 5 years ago from Spain

      Hi Tara. Great hub. I like the way you pointed out how expensive organic produce is, and then compared what it would cost to grow your own. Hope you don´t mind me saying, but the tomatoes look a bit diseased, sorry.

      Voted you up, interesting and useful too. :)

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      What an all-inclusive guide you have put together for getting the most out of your garden. At the moment mine consists of a container of basil and another container with cherry tomatoes and hot peppers. I really need to expand! Your charts are very helpful; I especially find it interesting how much protein per calorie some of the vegetables have compared to the legumes. I will most certainly be referring back to this information.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      Very nice Hub. I have studied companion planting for numerous years. I love my plants and garden. Thank you for the great info. Voted up for awesome.