Grow what you love.
Make a list of what to grow based on what you like to eat. Start simple, with the “must-haves,” just like you would if you were trying to find a new car or place to live. Don’t waste time growing things you think you “should” eat. And check to see which veggies grow well in your area. Ask neighbor gardeners what grows well for them. A lot of time and effort will go into your garden, so grow the veggies you love and those that will thrive where you are.
If you have a great homemade salsa or tomato sauce recipe, look at the ingredients to see what you can grow. If you’re particularly fond of a unique or expensive herb, spice, or vegetable, see if you can grow it. Have friends, families, or neighbors also gardening? Plant foods that complement their garden for future trades, when you just can’t eat another zucchini.
Some foods have bigger climate impacts than others. Check to see if your favorite exotic fruits and veggies can be grown in your area. If so, you’ll eliminate countless food miles and the emissions associated with transporting food around the world to get to your plate. Some plants are also better at capturing carbon underground than others. Choose deep rooted, perennial plants that do this best—berry bushes and trees for example.
Some plants are easier to grow than others.
Be sure to include some of these easy starter plants: peas, beans, radishes, lettuce, and sunflowers. These plants all grow quickly and are ready to harvest quickly too—leaving less of a chance for pests, weather, or lack of attention to interrupt. Squash are also great for the beginning gardener, but beware that they need a lot of space. Most herbs are also good options because they can be harvested anytime.
Consider the amount of space you have.
Many plants come in an array of varieties to suit your taste and your space. For example, some beans come in bush varieties (good for small spaces and containers) and vining varieties (good for climbing up trellises and have a small garden footprint).
Find the best veggies for your climate.
The US is divided into zones based on what types of plants grow best. Find your zone on the USDA website. The back of seed packets will tell you which Plant Hardiness Zones are ideal for growing that particular variety—be sure to pick plants that will thrive in your zone, which takes into account temperatures, season length, and humidity.
Choose native varieties and seeds adapted to your area when possible. They’re more likely to thrive without climate-negative, synthetic chemicals and are also more resilient in the face of our changing climate.
Read the beginner gardener toolkit for more about deciding what to grow in your garden.