It is important to select crops that will both grow well in your climate and provide the most nutrition for the amount of resources you put into them.
Let’s start with location. If you have sunny windows and plan to grow indoors, you can grow anything you like year-round. But if you plan to take advantage of a balcony, rooftop, or plot of land (lucky you) you will need to have a basic understanding of your climate, growing seasons, and the crop varieties that grow well in your area.
If you live in North America, you can quickly reference your hardiness zone. Once you identify your zone, you can find all kinds of information on different growing seasons and when to plant. If you live in other regions, a quick search will lead you to your nation’s department of agriculture, like the one for Sri Lanka, providing the same information for your climate.
I also recommend contacting your nearest agriculture cooperative extension office. They can connect you with resources, free educational materials on growing specific crops, and local organizations to support your efforts. They also offer soil testing, which I urge anyone growing on an inner-city plot to take advantage of. Soil contaminants like lead can be harmful but not impossible to work around once you know you have them.
Next, you have to decide what you are willing to spend your time growing. Considerations including the grocery budget, your family’s nutritional requirements, and the amount of soil and sun you have can all be factored in.
What I recommend for all gardeners, first-time or seasoned, is to at least grow what you eat the most. This significantly reduces grocery expenses, but can also save your limited space and time. When it comes to sitting down with the seed catalog or perusing the farmer’s market, it can be very easy to get carried away with exciting and exotic varieties that may require more calories of work in your climate than they add to your diet.
A simple way to begin is to make a list of the 5 vegetables that your family eats the most, then replace two of them with two different colors of vegetables not represented on the list. For example, if my list of vegetables is lettuce, green beans, spinach, and peas, I might replace two of them with eggplant and yellow squash. The easiest way to add more vitamins and nutrients to your diet is to add more color. If you are just starting, try growing 1-3 of the vegetables on your list according to the space you have and your level of adventure.
Once you have decided what you want to grow, go directly to the source for your seeds.
While you can pick up packs of seeds, it is easier to select good varieties by sampling the finished products. Instead of the aisle of seeds at the hardware store, go to the market and buy the vegetables themselves paying close attention to quality. And be willing to pay for the premium, meaning organic.
Many vegetables at the supermarket are grown from hybridized varieties that will not produce true the next season. Instead, buy the best you can to grow from season after season. A rule of thumb is that the healthiest seeds generally come from the healthiest fruits. If you want to grow plump and juicy tomatoes, buy the plumpest and juiciest in the batch. Even if you have a tight budget and would not normally buy organic, spending the extra on at least 1 of each vegetable on your list can go a long way. For example, 1 tomato can reportedly produce 73 – 346 seeds depending on the variety. These can be planted, the extra seeds saved, and you can produce an unending supply of organic seeds instead of buying more every year.
Additionally, check for locally grown varieties to make sure they will do well in your area. Most supermarkets list the source of the produce, and if you can buy directly from the farmer you can learn more about how easy or difficult the variety is to grow.