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Planning a Sustenance Vegetable Garden


A well-planned vegetable garden will sustain your family with a variety of fresh produce from spring to late fall. Serious gardeners will even cold-frame garden into the winter months for a steady stream of fresh greens and root vegetables. Sustenance vegetable gardens save money and ensure produce is organically grown. Careful planning and timing are essential for season-long garden-fresh produce for eating, canning, freezing, and drying.

Vegetables are divided by their best season of culture. Cool season crops are ideal for the spring and fall months, while warm-season crops are suited for summer growing. Some vegetables can be grown at almost in the growing season. Fruits are almost purely seasonal.
Planning the garden with a well-rounded collection of vegetables is essential. Consider your proteins (legumes and brassicas), carbohydrates/starches (root vegetables, corn, and squash), greens, fruits, and flavorful herbs when planning for each season. The broader array of healthful edibles you grow, the better.

Soil Preparation and Plot Design

Simple plot design makes it easier to transition crops through the season.


Two key ingredients for good garden planning are soil preparation and plot design. Nourish your soils with OMRI Listed® amendments, like Fafard Garden Manure Blend and Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, to encourage deep rooting and maximize growth and production. Then feed the ground with a multi-purpose fertilizer formulated for vegetables.
Design your garden plots in tidy rows or blocks, planning for spring, summer, and fall, and be sure that you know exactly where your vegetables will go. Rotation is essential for crops that are heavy feeders and suffer from soil-borne diseases and pests. Tomatoes, potatoes, and cucumbers are three crops that always require yearly rotation.
Here are some season-by-season vegetable suggestions and their benefits.

Spring Garden Sustenance Edibles

Early beets, carrots, spring onions, and cabbage are some of the classic early vegetables of spring.


Protein: Legumes are the main providers of needed protein from the garden. Good candidates for the spring include crisp snap peas, snow peas, and shelling peas (click here to learn more about growing peas). All are grown similarly and thrive in the cool weather. Brassicas, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi are also good protein sources (click here to read more about growing brassicas). Choose fast-growing brassicas (50-60 harvest days) for spring growing. Each year I like to grow crisp and productive ‘Super Sugar Snap’ peas (60 days), fast-growing ‘Gypsy’ broccoli (58 days), and sweet, purple ‘Kolibri’ kohlrabi (45 days).

Spinach is one of the best early greens of spring.


Carbohydrates: Root crops are made for the cool weather of spring and are rich in starch and nutrients. This is when they grow most rapidly and taste the best. Choose fast-growing beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips and plant them as soon as the soil can be worked. This is also the time to plant early potatoes, onions, and leeks. Asparagus is a perennial spring vegetable that is also high in carbohydrates. Of these, try the candy-striped ‘Chioggia’ beet (55 days), crisp, sweet ‘Yaya’ carrot (56 days), and ‘D’Avignon’ French radish (21 days).
Greens: Most garden greens taste and grow best in cool weather. This is the time to plant arugula, lettuce, endive, and spinach. Swiss chard is also best planted in spring and will remain productive well into late fall. (Learn how to grow several cool-season greens by clicking here.) The spicy ‘Sylvetta’ arugula (45 days), Salanova® green butter lettuce (55 days), and ‘Dragoon’ mini romaine lettuce (43 days) are all great choices.
Herbs: Cool season herbs may be annual or perennial. Recommended perennials for spring are chives, sorrel, tarragon, and thyme. Borage, chervil, cilantro, parsley, and dill are all superb annual herbs for spring. All are nutritious and very flavorful. The flavorful, slow-to-bolt cilantro ‘Calypso’ (50 days) is a high performer.
Fruit: Perennial late-spring “fruits” for the garden include rhubarb and strawberries—both being very high in vitamin C. (Click here to learn more about growing strawberries). Can them as jam or freeze them for use later in the season. I like to grow everbearing strawberries that will produce fruits through the growing months.

Summer Garden Sustenance Edibles

The well-planned summer vegetable garden is organized and diverse.


Protein: Beans of all kinds provide summer protein from the garden (click here to learn more about growing beans). Vining beans offer the highest yields because they produce more for longer. Heat-loving beans like Chinese noodle beans, Roma beans, and lima beans are tasty and very nutritious and protein-packed. Colorful beans for drying are also essential for winter storage and good eating. Okra is another high-protein vegetable that thrives in heat and is very easy to grow. The meaty ‘Musica’ Roma pole beans (55 days) and ‘Maxibel’ slender bush beans (50 days) are always good choices as is the compact, spineless ‘Annie Oakley’ okra (50 days).
Carbohydrates: Sweet corn is everyone’s favorite starchy crop (click here to learn more about growing sweet corn) and many varieties will start to mature by midsummer. Sweet potatoes require high heat for development and are an excellent source of carbohydrates (click here to learn how to create a sweet potato tower). Summer beets and carrots are also good choices for summer salads and sautees (click here to learn how to grow summer beets). Summer squash and zucchini of all kinds will also feed the family for weeks with their starch- and nutrient-filled fruits. my favorite summer squash of all is the long-vined but prolific ‘Zucchetta Rampicante’ (70 days).

Swiss chard is a green for warm or cool seasons.


Greens: Heat-tolerant greens are limited because many of the best greens are adapted to cool weather, but Swiss chard will provide a needed supply of tasty leaves through summer. Choose Rainbow Mix Swiss chard, which tastes great and comes in colorful shades of white, yellow, red, orange, and pink. Malabar Spinach (Basella rubra) is a vining green with a spinach-like taste that bursts forth with loads of edible foliage when summer is at its hottest. (Click here to read more about heat-tolerant greens.)
Herbs: Basil is the top annual herb for summer (Click here to learn more about growing basil in containers). It can be grown and harvested all through the season–whether you choose sweet basil, lemon basil, or Thai basil (the compact ‘Siam Queen’ is my favorite). Other culinary herbs for hot summer weather include lemongrass (click here to learn more about growing lemongrass), mint, oregano, summer savory, and rosemary (click here to learn more about harvesting and storing summer herbs.)
Fruit: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cucumbers are the four best savory fruits of summer. These are the staples that many gardeners rely on for summer garden harvest, especially tomatoes (click here to learn more about growing the best cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, and sauce tomatoes). All of these fruits require summer warmth for full development and flavor. (Click here for some of my favorite tomato varieties!)
Melons are everyone’s favorite garden fruits for summer. All are easy to grow if you have space (click here to learn more about growing melons). Watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew melons are all nutritious and low-calorie. Summer is when many perennial and tree fruits are at their prime. Blueberries, blackberries, mid-season raspberries, cherries, and peaches are all also ready by early to midsummer. Planting these fruits is an investment but one that’s worth it if you value growing your own fresh fruit. (Click on these links to learn more about growing blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, cherries, and patio peaches.)

Fall Garden Sustenance Edibles

Leeks, cool-season greens, and ripe winter squash are some of the primary crops of fall.


Protein: Few protein-rich vegetables grow at this time, but this is when shelling beans dry for harvest and winter storage. Choose a variety of flavorful shelling beans that you can enjoy all winter long like the red soup beans ‘Vermont Cranberry’ or classic white ‘Cannellini ‘ beans. You should also replant brassicas in late summer to they can sweeten up with the fall frost. Broccoli, broccoli rabe, and cauliflower are all great choices.
Carbohydrates: Beets, carrots, radishes, turnips should be planted by early fall for late-fall harvest. (Click here to learn more about growing late-season root vegetables) Choose winter carrot varieties and extra sweet beets that will remain harvestable after frost. Leeks should also be ready to harvest after the first light frost of the season. This is when they taste their sweetest. Nutritious winter squash and pumpkins should also be fully mature by early to mid-fall.

Cool season lettuces can be replanted in fall.


Greens: Replant the same cool-season greens of spring and consider throwing in a few kales and collard greens. Kales of all colors and sizes are pretty in the garden and delicious, and collards are reliable producers with large leaves and high yields. Both grow sweeter with frost. I like the flavor of blue-green ‘Lacinato’ kale.
Herbs: Annual cool-season herbs are also back on the menu. Evergreen sage and rosemary are also available for favorite fall dishes. Sage pairs particularly well with winter squash.
Fruit: Apples, pears, and persimmons are the fruits of fall. Small-space gardeners should consider planting dwarf trees for home gardening. (Click here to read more about growing dwarf apples.) This is also when hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts can be culled from the ground and roasted. (Click on the links to read more about growing hazelnuts and pecans.)

Winter Garden Sustenance Edibles

Cool-season greens of all kinds can be grown in mild winter areas or winter cold frames.


Assuming you don’t live in the American South or Southwest, there are only a handful of garden edibles suitable for cold-frame growing in winter. (Read more about high-desert vegetable gardening.) These consist of cool-season greens, root vegetables, and herbs. Then, after the cold of winter wanes, it will be time to start planning and planting your sustenance vegetable garden once again.

Planting Table

Vegetable          Planting Time           Season            Seeding
Bush Beans       Spring, Summer         Warm               Outdoor
Pole Beans        Spring (after frost)      Warm               Outdoor
Beets                 Spring to Fall              Warm/Cool       Outdoor
Broccoli              Spring, Summer         Cool                  Indoor
Cabbage            Spring, Summer         Cool                  Indoor
Carrots               Spring, to Fall             Warm /Cool      Outdoor
Corn                   Late Spring                 Warm              Outdoor
Cucumbers        Spring (after frost)       Warm              Outdoor
Eggplant            Spring (after frost)       Warm              Indoor
Kale                   Spring, Summer             Cool                Indoor
Kohlrabi             Spring                            Cool                Indoor
Leeks                 Spring                             Cool                Indoor
Lettuce               Spring, Summer          Cool                Indoor
Melons               Spring (after frost)      Warm            Outdoor
Okra                   Late Spring                   Warm             Outdoor
Onion Sets         Mid-Spring                  Warm              Outdoor
Onion(Spring)     Early Spring              Cool                 Indoor
Peas                   Early Spring, Summer Cool                 Outdoor
Peppers              Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Indoor
Potato Sets         Spring Cool Outdoor
Pumpkins            Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Outdoor
Radishes             Early Spring Cool Outdoor
Spinach                Early Spring Cool Indoor
Zucchini/Squash  Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Outdoor
Sweet Potatoes    Late Spring Warm Outdoor
Swiss Chard         Early Spring Cool/Warm Indoor
Tomatoes              Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Indoor
Turnips                 Early Spring Cool Outdoor

About Jessie Keith


Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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