If you’re an inexperienced gardener or focused primarily on maximum food production, there are some vegetables that will consistently give you maximum bang for your buck. Sometimes it’s a particular variety within a larger group, while in others, pretty much any variety will do. These are the plants that old-time gardening catalogs would note as “very productive,” “a good choice for the beginner,” or “consistent producer in all areas.” Here are the plants I call garden workhorses.
Asparagus – plant asparagus once and you’ll have it for at least a quarter century. We have an asparagus bed that has probably been there 30 years – maybe 50. It gets no summer water and minimal care, yet still produces. If I gave it summer water and better care, I’m sure I could double or triple production.
Beans – Rattlesnake pole bean is hands down the best producer I’ve ever grown. It will take high summer heat (I understand it tolerates high humidity, too, but that’s never been an issue in my area) and keep producing until frost kills it. The beans can be used as snap, shell and dry beans. For bush snap beans, Pencil Pod Black Wax and Black Valentine are also topnotch.
Chard – Grows year-round in my garden and can be harvested a few leaves or a plant at a time. The stalks add crunch.
Cherry Tomatoes – like cukes, the variety doesn’t really seem to matter. These veggies are at least as productive as their bigger cousins, but take less space. They’ll keep producing until November for me unless we have an extra-early frost.
Cucumber – almost any variety of cucumber comes under the heading of garden workhorse. Boston Pickling, however, is at the top of my list. It’s a reasonable slicer and obviously a good pickling cucumber.
Lettuce – Lots of people have favorite varieties, but I mostly grow mixed lettuce. It’s fast, can be tucked into odd corners and readily produces seed. If I were picking varieties, I would go with Black-Seeded Simpson and White Island Paris Cos.
Potatoes – the Late Gene Logsdon once opined that “any fool can grow a spud.” In other words, they are easy. Planted about one foot apart, each plant will give you three to five pounds of potatoes. They also winter over very well; I always miss a few when I harvest. I like German Butterball for taste and storage qualities.
Tyfon – you may have never heard of this brassica/turnip cross. It’s a leafy green that will grow pretty much year round. It lends itself to cut and come again harvesting and is great for creating a nice fine seed bed when wintered over. Treat it like any cooked green in the kitchen.
Winter Squash – Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck is a consistent producer, stores well and tastes good.
Zucchini – I have never heard of ANYONE who couldn’t grow zucchini. I like Early Straightneck Prolific (yellow) and Cocozelle (light green striped). Both are extremely productive, taste great and never bothered by pests or diseases. They make good pickles, can be dried and are useful in a wide variety of dishes. The only thing I have against these – and any summer squash – is that the only way you can freeze it is grated.
These garden workhorses will give you a variety of vegetables to harvest from spring right on through winter. The cherry tomatoes, summer squash and bush beans offer colors other than green (which also means different nutrients). With the exception of the winter squash, they aren’t space eaters and all are easy to grow. Plant a few and see what I mean.