When gardening to feed my family there are a couple of different criteria I consider when planning my garden. We will talk about the crops we are growing, different seed varieties and why we chose them.
Gardening to feed my family has always been one of the goals of our homestead. It is a delicious way to know our where our food comes from. It also gives you a new appreciation for any food not grown on your homestead.
Gardening is definitely not a skill I grew up with. Sure, we had some strawberries and my dad would plant a few rows of carrots now and again. But overall, gardening is definitely a new skill in my homesteading arsenal. We currently do not produce near enough food to feed us for an entire year, but I feel that there is value in the baby steps. Each year, we continue to plant a garden with the hopes that we will get a little bit better and learn a little bit more.
Planning the Garden
When I think about gardening to feed my family my first thought is what do we like to eat. While the seed catalogs are full of pictures of beautiful vegetables, they are no good to me if I cannot get anyone to eat them at dinner time. For use this means a lot of root vegetables. Carrots, potatoes, beets… they all go over a treat at the dinner table. Another thing to consider is if the vegetable will actually grow in your zone. We are in a zone 3. That means we have cold winters and a short growing season. Our last frost date is some time in the later half of May. Because of this, many plants need to be started indoors or be suited to the shorter growing season. This comes with its own considerations. Do you have the time, space, and lighting to start seeds inside? Making sure a plant is cold hardy is also very important. While it doesn’t happen often, the snow has been known to fall in the later part of summer.
What I am planting this year
This year I am focusing on the staples when gardening to feed my family. What does that mean? It will mean something a little bit different to everyone but for our family is means things I can build a meal around. Lots of pantry staples. I picked crops that I new would grow well, my family would like and I could reasonably put up for the winter. So this year here is what we have…
- Onions and Leeks
- Peas – shelling and snap
- Beans – Bush and Pole varieties
- Carrots – fresh eating and storage
- Lettuces and Spinach
- Squash – winter and summer varieties
I tend to purchase a lot of my seeds from West Coast Seeds. They are a Canadian company located in British Columbia. Their seeds are accessible in my area and I have always had good success when it comes to germination rates. Which is important. Gardening can be a lot of work. It would be a shame to spend all that time getting seeds in the ground only to find out half of them didn’t even germinate.
Varieties I am planting
Knowing what crop someone is planting is all well and good, but we also need to talk about the varieties. Because variety is key. In life and in your garden.
Onions and Leeks
This year I am growing two varieties of onions. A red, Rossa di Milano and a white, White Wing. Both are a storage variety. Which is important if you want to eat onions into the winter. I decided on the Chinook variety of leeks this year. Leeks happen to be one of my favourite alums to cook with, so I am really hoping that I have some success with them.
Peas and Beans
We decided to grow a shelling and a snap variety this year. For shelling peas we went with Green Arrow. For snap, Sugar Ann. We have grown Sugar Ann peas for a few years now and then perform fantastically in our garden. They give a great yield. Enough for eating in the garden while working and having some in the fridge for snacks.
Truth time. I have not had great success growing beans. At all. But I refuse to give up because there are a favourite snack for the children. We have a few differently types of beans. Bush beans, which give us the green and yellow beans we are used to seeing in the freezer section and pole beans. For bush beans we decided to grow Strike, a green bean, and Gold Rush, a yellow bean. Our pole beans are Barlotti. We grew them last year for the first time and while we didn’t get a huge yield, they were so delicious that I decided to try again.
While most carrots are good for storage, some varieties are better than others. When you are growing a garden with the intention of feed your family, good storage capabilities are important. For that reason we are growing Bolero carrots again this year. And by all means get the pelleted seeds. Carrot seeds are tiny and pelleted seeds have a coating on them making them easier to see in the ground and easier to handle. We also have the rainbow variety pack, because they are so fun. These are the carrots we will pick and eat fresh through out the summer. If you are only going to grow one thing in your garden this year I implore you to make it carrots. You cannot beat a fresh, homegrown carrot.
Lettuce and Spinach
Greens are a staple in most gardens. We are picking a few different types of lettuce this year. Pomegranate Crush, which is a romaine style lettuce. Drunken Woman, a crisp head lettuce. We also have some Parris Island Cos seeds left over from last year, so they will get planted as well. Spinach is great to grow in any garden but especially one with a short growing season. It’s quick to grow, makes a great bed filler as you wait for other plants to get bigger and you can usually get a second planting out of it. All important when feeding your family is the goal. The varieties we have this year are Monstrueux de Viroflay (a french heirloom) and Yukon.
Let me tell you about celery. Last year was the first time I grew celery. I decided to give it a go after a fellow zone 3 gardener I follow on Instagram convinced me with a few posts/stories about it. I will never not grow celery again. It is a time commitment. Celery must be started indoors for our zone. And early, some time by mid February. But it is so easy. One you get the seeds started all you need to do is water it. You can harvest sticks right off the plant all summer long and then harvest the whole plant near the end of the season and freeze it for use all winter. If I can convince you to only grow two things in your garden this year, celery is second. We grow the Tango variety.
I just cannot give up on squash. It’s kind of like beans, I know people can do it, so I keep trying. I know one year I will stumble on the magic formula for growing this in my garden. But for now I just keep trying. We are growing both winter and summer squash this year. For winter squash we have Sweet Mama and Burgess Buttercup. As for the summer squash, I forgot to add them to my seed order. So I will have to stop by my local farm store and see what they have in stock.
The last few years we have saved our own seed potatoes. I typically take the ones that are too tiny for me to want to wash them, put them in a separate box and plant again next year. Well 2022 potatoes harvest was dismal at best. So I decided to order some fresh seed potatoes this year. Most are varieties that are new to me but they are coming from a farm here in Alberta so I will have to report back at the end of the growing season about how they did.
This years wild card. I know, we are all thinking it. Cucumbers. Zone 3. No greenhouse. Yup. But sometimes you just need to buy the seed to make the children happy. We are hoping to take advantage of the micro climates on the south side of our house to make these grow. We decided on Mini Me and Homemade Pickles. Mini me are a good snacking size and Homemade Pickles, well, maybe they will make it into the pickle jars this year.
Finishing up this year’s plan
Well, I hope this post about gardening to feed my family has inspired you to try something new this year. We are far from experts but sometimes I think it is nice to hear from people who are just learning. Our garden will keep our family in some delicious, fresh produce this summer. And hopefully for part of the winter. Feeding a family is a lot of work. But it is good work, that has value. Please remember that as you plan and dream about your garden this year. What are you planting this year? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.