Seems like everyone is gardening these days (which I certainly consider to be A Good Thing). If you’re an inexperienced gardener, it helps to know which are the most productive vegetables. If you have limited space, ditto. If you can’t or don’t want to work too hard, ditto. The plants below are good candidates. They are easy to grow, they grow reliably, they don’t need a lot of space and they produce well. You can get a lot of mileage out of four to six beds that are five feet by five feet. With the exception of the beets, the actual varieties don’t matter. The data on space and production comes from John Jeavons’ “How to Grow More Vegetables.”
A cucumber plant needs a mere square foot of ground to produce one to three pounds of cukes. These plants will also produce until frost. And making fermented pickles to store all winter is a ten-minute job for a gallon jar.
These beets are long rather than ball-shaped, so you can harvest two times the edible material of the typical round beet. Each beet needs only four square inches of space. In addition to the beets themselves, you can also eat the greens. Expect about half a pound of food from the combination of roots and greens.
A cherry tomato can be grown in 18 square inches of soil or a five-gallon pot and will reward you with tasty little nuggets for months. If you start them indoors and transplant at six to eight weeks – best to do it before they actually blossom, you can be eating tomatoes from Independence Day to Christmas in many climates. One plant can give you seven or eight pounds of tomatoes and they can easily be canned or frozen.
A pole bean only occupies six square inches in the garden. They do need poles or trellises, but once they scramble up their supports, they will go on producing until hard frost. Many varieties make good green or snap beans, can be shelled and will also dry on the vine for winter casseroles and soups. One pole bean can produce slightly over a pound of food. Snap and shell beans freeze well.
The potato is one of the all-around best food producers for limited space. You can grown them as close as nine inches, although I usually give them a foot each. One potato plant can translate into three pounds of potatoes. That’s about eight servings. Four square feet of garden space will give you about 48 pounds of potatoes. Potatoes can be frozen if mashed first with butter and cream. Otherwise, store in a cool, dark, slightly damp place.
Like cherry tomatoes, you can grow these in five-gallon pots or 18 inches of garden space. A healthy zucchini plant can produce as much as 10 pounds of squash in a season. The only down side to summer squash is that they don’t freeze well, with the exception of shredded squash.
There are a few other veggies that produce well and take up very little garden space – lettuce, radishes and green onions, for example. And you’ll get these results only if your soil is highly fertile, which means lots of organic material such as compost. However, the ones noted above take the prize for most productive vegetables.