Choosing the best crops to grow for your space plays a huge role in the productivity of your garden! Some crops produce multiple harvests in a relatively small space over a short span of just a few months, while others take a lot longer to mature and are much more space intensive. To make the most out of your smaller garden, choose crops that produce multiple harvests off of a single planting, or crops that mature quickly so you can replant the space multiple times over the season.
The top ten annual plants we recommend for space intensive planting:
Salad greens (lettuce mix, arugula, mustard greens and spinach): salad greens are a great choice because they grow very quickly (some can be ready to harvest 30 days after planting) and grow well under a variety of weather conditions. Salad greens are often the first and last crop of the season (and many in between).
Tomatoes: nearly everyone wants tomatoes in the garden. These huge plants are highly productive. In Seattle, we recommend focusing on cherry tomatoes, which ripen more reliably in our climate and can provide an ongoing harvest for several weeks (or more) in the late summer and early fall.
Peppers: these plants love growing in the heat, so they might not be the most obvious choice for a Pacific Northwest garden, but we have found that many types of hot peppers and smaller sweet peppers are incredibly productive even during our mild summers. Wait to plant these crops outdoors until the weather has really warmed up and then watch them take off.
Cilantro: this crop is notorious as a quick bolting crop (meaning that it sets flowers before you want it to). The trick is to seed the crop into the garden very frequently. We seed a new row of cilantro every single week during the main growing season so we always have a fresh supply of young, tender leaves. Of course this means that you also have to remove the older, bolted plants just as frequently.
Radish: the fastest growing crop in the garden, radishes can be ready for harvest in as little as 3 weeks after seeding. You can plant radishes pretty much any time during the spring, summer or fall. These are a great crop to fill in open spaces in the garden, even a few feet of space can provide a robust harvest.
- Cucumbers: a very productive, vining crop, cucumbers are one of the most popular garden crops. Feed these plants heavily (lots of organic fertilizer) and trellis them to keep fruit off the ground (we like to use tomato cages to trellis cucumbers). Then just watch the harvest roll in.
- Parsley: one of the easiest crops to grow, parsley is also arguably the most productive crop of all. Simply plant a few parsley each spring and then reap the harvest all season long. Since the plant is biennial, it will often resprout the following year, providing an early season harvest before the new spring plantings have matured.
- Beans: to keep a consistent supply, we recommend planting both pole beans and bush beans. The pole beans take awhile to mature, but produce a consistent harvest for weeks on end in the middle and end of the summer season. Bush beans grow much more quickly and can produce huge harvests off of just a few tiny plants.
- Basil: of all the heat loving crops, basil is probably the most intolerant of cold weather conditions. Also one of the most productive crops per plant in the universe, wait until weather has really warmed up before planting these outside (in Seattle we don’t plant basil until June). Basil grows very quickly, so it is possible to get in a great harvest even if you get a late start.
- Kale: based on social media analytics, kale was probably the most popular crop of 2014. This is understandable since the plants are beautiful, nutritious, very productive and very tolerant of a range of growing conditions. On occasion, a healthy kale plant can produce a consistent harvest for 6 months or more. For the record, we liked kale before it was cool.