I have recently acquired a new 33 x 33 ft plot in the West Country (south west England). I was just wondering with a new baby and limited time, what would be the best vegetables to grow, to maximize the output. Do you have any time saving ideas or advice?

The soil is pH 7, loamy and only slightly weedy.

3 Answers 3


If you simply want to maximize the number of pounds of vegetables you harvest, plant any of zucchini (courgettes), celery, swiss chard, leeks, rutabagas. Those will yield the most pounds per square foot of planting area.

If you want to maximize the number of calories per square foot, plant any of jerusalem artichoke, lima beans (pole, not bush), beets (eat both greens and roots), burdock, garlic, leeks, parsnips, potatoes (white/Irish), potatoes (sweet), rutabaga (I think you call these swedes), salsify, shallots. Surprisingly (to me at least), leeks are far and away the champion for calories per square foot -- 132000 calories possible from a single 100 sq ft planting. This list ignores the fact that these vegetables have different lengths of time to maturity -- beets are much faster to harvest than parsnips or leeks, for example.

And really, how many leeks can you eat?

I would choose the vegetables that you like to eat the most. If you have limited time, you might consider avoiding fussy crops like tomatoes, which can require a lot of care but don't provide much output. On the other hand, hilling potatoes requires labor but they can produce a lot of output.

As far as plants that will likely yield well without a lot of care, consider the squash family. Zucchini (courgettes) and most winter squash will give you as much food as you care to eat without tons of work -- assuming you have fertile soil. We got so much zucchini out of just a couple of hills last summer that we ended up making several jars of pickles, shredding some to put in the freezer, and making several breads. And I think all of the pumpkins that volunteered out of the compost pile gave my wife nightmares about how we were going to process them all, and what we're going to make with them.

Quick crops that don't require too much work would include lettuce, mustards, and chard. You can sometimes find all three combined in a packet of "mesclun mix". (Not sure if there's a different name for this in the UK.) Sow them rather thickly (0.5" - 1" or so; much closer than the 8-12" spacing that a packet of a single lettuce variety will recommend for heads) and cut them at baby size (3-4" high) for mixed salads.

Lastly, I like chard for greens all summer long. An 3'x4' bed will give you plenty. Start them in the spring, planting more thickly than the packet suggests (every 1" or so). Thin them at baby size to have in salads. As they get bigger, you can cut stems from the outside of the plant and it will continue to grow new leaves. If they start to get too thick (because you didn't thin enough -- I never do), chop off a whole plant. They're good in stir fries and soups. When I have too many to use at once I'll put a whole pile of leaves into a freezer bag for use in soups during the winter.

As far as time savings goes: keep up on the weeding. It's much easier and faster to walk around with the scuffle hoe for an hour once or twice a week and chop off all the little weeds than it is to hand-weed for several hours when the weeds get out of control.


Bearing in mind the "limited time" and "new baby" factors I would suggest:

Will produce a big harvest for not a lot of effort and are good to puree for babies. They will take up quite a lot of space but your plot isn't small.

Runners and French beans take very little looking after and french beans are usually popular with little ones.

I disagree with @bstpierre, I think they're fairly easy to grow and such a big winner on taste versus the shop version that it's worth the effort.

  • 1
    And along with tomatoes I would add peppers. Buy them as potted plants to save effort and give them a head start. Not sure which variety would be best for high production in your climate - it may require some experimentation or ask your nursery.
    – winwaed
    Jan 5, 2012 at 17:33
  • I suppose you're right on the tomatoes. I just always end up having to fight some kind of blight or disease -- only tomatoes, not on other vegs. But the difference in taste, not to mention the homemade ketchup. Mmm.
    – bstpierre
    Jan 5, 2012 at 23:47
  • @bstpierre mostly i find tomatoes to be hassle free, except they do need regular and significant amounts of watering. i only ever had blight one year, and that was the year i grew potatoes nearby ... is there a connection? perhaps I should ask that as a separate question Jan 6, 2012 at 11:23
  • @bstpierre - Last year was the only year we've had a lot of tomato blight, and it was because we grew some heirloom varieties from bought starters. Buy vf-resistant seed or starters, rotate your location each year, ruthlessly cull any plants that show sign of blight, and prune cleanly to avoid providing entry to spores. The "ruthless culling" is the hardest part for us - we have too much ruth.
    – Ed Staub
    Jan 6, 2012 at 13:36
  • @TeaDrinker You aren't meant to put toms next to potatoes. Both members of the same nightshade family, disease can spread easily to tomatoes apparently. Jan 6, 2012 at 13:50

I think potatoes are a viable option.

Some people grow potatoes the easy way: In early spring cover the entire plot with at least one inch of fresh compost and till to six inches below ground. Then place the tubers, pre-cut, twelve inches apart each way, on top of the ground. Then spread 10-12 inches of loose hay on top of the potatoes. They will come up later, but once they get through the hay, they grow like weeds. When the tops die back, lift the hay, and find bushels of clean white potatoes lying on top of the ground. They are easily harvested without the need for a spade.

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