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7 Seeds for a Prolific Garden
by Nan K. Chase - posted 07/05/19

Not all seeds are created equal. I’ve been vegetable gardening for a few decades now, and I have discovered that some vegetable seeds produce big results for a small investment, year after year. No longer do I want to experiment with lots of new crops. What I like instead is to plant seeds that give me the least hassle and the biggest rewards, at pennies per serving.

My favorite “value seeds” can all take a beating from the weather, be it hot, cold, wet or dry. They can sometimes thrive in soil that looks too thin to support life. And when grown in a sensible rotation, they can produce over much of the year, not just in mid-summer.


Here are a baker’s half-dozen of my favorite value seeds:

1. Kale. This has got to be absolutely the best value for your seed dollar. A packet of kale seeds grows into a crop that provides nutritious eating for a whole year. Red kale, blue kale, black kale – it doesn’t matter, although I have found Russian red kale to be the most reliable of all.
      Plant the seeds in early spring. Rather than planting mine in rows, I like to broadcast seeds quite densely in an oval area about the size of two bushel baskets side by side. I stagger plantings by a week or two, over a month, so the harvest runs longer.
      Start harvesting the smallest thinnings when they are 1 inch tall and use them to top soups or salads. Continue thinning the plants as they grow, using the young shoots in vegetable dishes. The remaining plants then have room to grow and will keep pumping out fresh leaves all season. 

2. Scallions. I hate reading stories about food poisoning outbreaks involving “factory farmed” scallions because it gives this vegetable a bad reputation and scallions add so much zest to cooking. When I grow my own scallions, otherwise known as spring onions, I know that they have never touched the kinds of contaminants that can sicken or kill.
     Whenever I see onion sets -- dry bulblets -- available at my local farm store I buy a pound or two and plant them one to two dozen at a time, about every two weeks during the spring and into the early summer. You can also plant them again starting in mid-autumn and keep planting until the ground freezes hard. This planting schedule gives me easy-to-find clusters of spring onions for much of the year. 

3. Leeks. Considering how much leeks cost at the store or farmers’ market, and considering how cheap and reliable the seed is, it’s a wonder more people don’t try growing this gourmet member of the onion family.
      I have tried growing leeks from seed both in the ground and individually in peat pots, and I recommend the peat-pot method. You can start one seed in each pot around March. They sprout quickly and can be transplanted when the seedlings are as slender as a pencil lead. They “hang out” in the garden all summer and can look stressed, but when cold, wet weather returns, watch out. Leeks love the cold, and they grow tender and plump for winter harvest.
      To plant by seed, sow them thickly, and when a clump emerges dig it up and separate the seedlings for transplant.

4. Green beans. While you can find these staples of the vegetable garden in colors including purple and yellow, let’s just call them green beans for ease of identification. They are steady performers in any condition, and the beans supply months of harvest if you make sure to plant lots of different kinds -- climbing, half-runner, bush -- in small batches every two weeks from early June through mid-July.
      One major difference between bush beans and the runner or climbing types is that bush beans tend to flower at once and then produce the bulk of their crop at pretty much the same time. The other kinds will produce fewer beans at once, but over a longer period of time.
      Whatever you do, pick the beans before they get too large and tough. Remember: slender and tender!

5. Sunflowers. A single seed of the giant ‘Mammoth Russian’ can produce pounds of edible sunflower seeds at the end of summer. As an added bonus, the fibrous stalk can be recycled in the compost pile and the big root ball will have conditioned your worst soil. Talk about value!
      Annual sunflowers really do love the sun and the hot, dry conditions in the summer garden. Be sure not to plant the seeds too closely together, as the stalks need good air circulation to develop the strength to hold up that big head.
      Perennial sunflowers, called the Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke, have an edible tuberous root. The flowers grow up to 10 feet tall in the early autumn and attract goldfinches to the small, high-protein seeds.

6. Edamame. Yes, this healthy snack food is easy to grow directly from seed in your own garden. The plants germinate quickly and grow to about 2 feet, and they stay an attractive bushy green while the hairy little seed pods develop. You can buy frozen edamame in the supermarket, but why not just grow them yourself?
      It’s time to harvest the pods when they are plump and still green. All you do then is steam or boil them for five minutes to break down an enzyme that otherwise makes them indigestible, and then drain and serve with soy sauce or some wasabi paste for firepower.
      Edamame are legumes, immature soybeans. Whatever you don’t eat is great to till back into the garden for green manure, or you can feed the stalks and leaves to the chickens.

7. Potatoes. Sure, potatoes can be wiped out by disease or stunted from marginal growing conditions, but they can also do tremendously well in the garden and produce many pounds of food for each pound of seed potatoes you buy. And homegrown potatoes boast a rich, earthy flavor that is mostly missing from store-bought potatoes.
      Potatoes favor deeply worked, slightly acid soil; cool temperatures for spring or fall sowing; and moderate rainfall. Buy certified seed potatoes that can best resist pests and diseases. Plant the sprouting eyes about 5 inches deep and 1 foot apart, and harvest when the leaves wilt. Don’t wash the potatoes for storing, just dry them and knock off the dirt, then store them in a cool, dark place.




This article appeared in an previous State-by-State Gardening publication.


Nan K. Chase is the author of Eat Your Yard! Edible Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Herbs and Flowers for Your Landscape, and grows vegetables year-round at her home.