Least efficient crops

This is a list of 9 crops that are not worth growing in a small garden. They are the most popular vegetables and fruits new home gardeners ask about. The truth is that they are the least efficient crops to try to grow in a small space if you are looking to feed a family. They either require a big space to grow enough or are hard to keep up with their maintenance.

Why have a small garden, even if it’s small?

Deciding what to grow in a home garden relies on the purpose of having a garden in the first place. Most people start a vegetable garden for two main reasons. First, to add some new interest in their life or to entertain their kids. Second, to save money on organic produce since they decided to eat cleaner.

I belong to the second group since I grow vegetables to feed my family of six as clean as possible. I want to feed them organic produce without spending a fortune. Also, I want to feed them vegetables that did not travel thousands of miles, and then set on the shelf for days before we get it.

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What makes a garden efficient?

Since my goal of starting a vegetable garden is to become self-sufficient, I had one challenge to overcome, and that is Small Space. I live in a suburban house with an average size backyard, which only half of it gets sun. I managed to build raised beds giving me 224 square feet of growing space.

To be able to feed a family of six, I had to make the most of this space. After three years of trial and error, I was able to realize that some vegetables were not efficient enough to have them in my garden. The final list had to meet the following criteria:

  • Easy to start from seed, to save on transplant cost.
  • Compact size so it does not require a big space to reach maturity.
  • Fewer issues related to weather or pest, saving me time slaving over keeping them alive.
  • No major disease problem.
  • Prolific production, to cover the family’s needs.

After making the selection, the following nine vegetables didn’t make it to the growing list. Although they are the most commonly grown, they ended up being not efficient if grown in a small garden.

9 crops not worth growing in a small garden
Photo by louis Hansel

#1 Brussel sprouts

At the top of the list come Brussel sprouts. I had two attempts growing them at the beginning of my journey, then gave up. Brussel sprouts are cool-season crops and require a long growing period, Fall through Spring.

All this time, Brussel sprouts occupy the space I would have used to grow two succession plantings of another crop. They, also, don’t withstand temperature fluctuations, that central Texas is known for. They also get Sbadly infested by aphids in the spring. In the end, I had to cross them out and skip growing them.

9 crops not worth growing in a small garden

#2 Cabbage

I am talking about the common big round cabbage. This variety of cabbage takes up a huge amount of space, with a long time to mature. Thankfully, I was able to find varieties that don’t take up a lot of space and have a shorter growing time.

I opted to grow Asian cabbages such as Napa, sweet Choi, and the oblong cabbage. They perform well in my Texas garden with little effort. I plant 13 heads in a 16 sqft raised bed, which is enough to feed us for several weeks.

9 crops not worth growing in a small garden

#3 Carrots

Many might think I am crazy for adding carrots to the “Not to Grow” list. I understand since carrots are among the crops that attract people the most to gardening.

As I mentioned before, my garden space is precious, and I have to make the most out of it. We grew carrots for three consecutive years. Only one out of those three was relatively successful. We sure were happy with the harvest, but it was not enough to make us several meals.

To my standards, it was hardly a success as there were enough carrots for my kids to snack on for a few days. That was nothing close to my goal of feeding the family. And since organic carrots are cheap in my local store, the decision to give them up was not too hard to make.

Photo by Milada Vigerova. No place for corn in my small garden. But driving by corn fields in a summer afternoon is divine.

#4 Corn

At the beginning of my gardening years, most gardeners advised me to grow corn. I don’t know the real reason, but I think it’s because I have kids. Often, home gardening is associated with kids’ activities. However, in my case, gardening is more serious than just having fun.

I did attempt growing corn in hopes to enjoy some grilled corn on the cob. Well, our disappointment was obvious when the squirrel munched the few ears we got.

After doing some research about growing corn, I realized that it doesn’t have a place in my garden. It is not as efficient as I would wish it to be since each plant produces only one corn ear. That, certainly, defeats my purpose of gardening. Then again, corn is cheap in the store, and even if it’s not organic, at least it comes from local farms.

9 vegetables not efficient in a small garden

#5 Tomatoes (indeterminate)

No need to panic, I didn’t give up growing tomatoes, I only gave up on indeterminate tomatoes. Growing tomatoes in Texas is very challenging. A seasoned Texas gardener once told me: ” In Texas, tomato plants start dying as soon as you put them in the ground.” Implying that it takes effort to keep tomato plants alive during Texas summers.

In Texas, we have to put our tomatoes out as soon as the threat of frost has passed. Our spring is short-lived, and if we miss it, there won’t be any harvest for us. That’s because tomato plants stop setting fruit once the heat settles, which happens fast here.

Indeterminate tomatoes need quite some time to establish themselves and begin production. By the time they start blooming, the temperatures have already reached the high 90s. For a small garden owner, this wait is not worth it.

On the other hand, determinate tomatoes grow faster and begin blooming much sooner. When summer arrives we are already at the peak of our harvest. They are, also easier to manage in a small garden, compared to their vining cousins.

9 crops that are not worth growing in a small garden

#6 Radishes

Radishes are the fastest growing vegetable, and everyone advises to grow them in the home garden. Don’t get me wrong, I did give them a try, but they turned out to be too spicy for our taste. And since they are not a crop that would make us a meal, I had to get them out.

If you enjoy snacking on them and you don’t mind the heat feel free to grow them. The best advice I would give you is to look for varieties that would thrive in your area. Keep in mind that they are cool-season crops and require temperature below 75F (25C).

9 crops not worth growing in a small garden
Photo by Louis Hansel

#7 Spinach

Though spinach is one of my favorite greens, sadly, I had to give it up after years of trial. It was hard to find a variety that didn’t bolt with our fluctuating temperatures. Also, I needed to sacrifice a large portion from the garden, for it to become a crop that can feed a family. As you know spinach shrinks drastically once cooked.

I replaced spinach by curly kale and Asian greens. They have similar nutritional values as spinach, but they withstand Texas weather much better. We enjoy them in omelets, gratins, souffles, fish pie, and quiches. They last all season long from fall till the end of spring. Even better, after each harvest, they come again (regrow) in no time.

Check out this link to learn more on how to Grow Greens In Central Texas.

crops not worth growing in a small garden
Photo by Jeeray TANG

#8 Strawberries

Yes, I had to give up strawberries. It was a difficult decision, but it had to be made. Sorry to sound redundant, but strawberries are another crop that was hard to keep alive in my Texas garden. They rot in the wet springs and crisp up under the harsh summer sun.

It was not worth the hassle keeping them alive to only get a handful of strawberries. I got rid of them, and I planted raspberries instead, which are tough as nails and prolific producers.

crops not worth growing in a small garden
Photo by Louis Hansel

#9 Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are another beloved vegetable that I gave up for an unexpected reason, Mosquitoes. Yes, you read it right mosquitoes.

Sweet potatoes are a warm-season crop that grows all summer long till fall. Its foliage is a beautiful vine that adds interest to the garden. The kids enjoy watching it getting longer and longer every day.

Unfortunately, the experience was not all fun. The interesting vine became a breeding ground for mosquitoes that were eating us alive. So yeah! No more sweet potatoes.

You might be interested in reading more about growing sweet potatoes from a homesteader. Click

least efficient crops

The following vegetables, I haven’t stopped growing, even if they haven’t met my list criteria. I just could not give them up due to their unique taste. There is no way of comparison between them and the store ones. For this reason, I keep growing them even if they won’t make us several meals.


crops not worth growing in a small garden
Photo by Louis Hansel

Asparagus

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that you plant once and survives for many years to come. If you decide to grow asparagus, dedicate a permanent bed for it, and expect to keep it there for at least 15 years.

The drawback of growing asparagus is that it will never fill your belly. You need to plant fields of it to be able to get several meals worth of harvest. In my garden, I have a small bed of asparagus. The harvest is not huge, but it is enough for a snack or to add to an omelet. I just can’t part with its unique taste that’s nothing like the one from the market.

potatoes
Yukon Gold Potatoes

Potatoes

Growing potatoes in the home garden won’t spare you buying them from the store. You need to have ten plants per person to become somewhat self-sufficient. But the fun behind growing potatoes remains in the mystery of it being underground. The suspense rises during the growing time to either be rewarded or disappointed at harvest.

Same as asparagus, I grow potatoes for the flavor that is incomparable to store potatoes. We enjoy them with cheese, raclette style, or boiled with a drizzle of olive oil.

Here is a link to learn more about potato growing in Central Texas.

2 thoughts on “9 Crops Not Worth Growing in a Small Garden

  1. Try crawford lettuce, butternut squash they thrive on neglect

    1. Thank you for the suggestions.

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