I have a small area (4'x 20') in my backyard which I've tried for the last 3 years to grow vegetables and each time have failed miserably.

Items I've tried to grow:

  1. Corn
  2. Cucumbers
  3. Watermelon
  4. Broccoli
  5. Cauliflower
  6. Potatoes
  7. Lettuce

I live in southeastern NC close to the coast and the soil is sandy, so I replaced the existing soil with 6" of soil I bought from a nursery, so I think that's ok, but I thought that I would check with someone here to see if I could get some pointers.

I'm thinking about just focusing on two or three things this time maybe potatoes, cucumbers and lettuce?


  • Hi! What exactly was the result? Did the veggies wilt, not bear fruit, rot, catch disease?
    – Daria
    Commented May 5, 2019 at 22:48
  • The Corn had very small ears. The few cucumbers that actually grew were infested with some kind of boring worm. Did okay with lettuce. No broccoli at all. The leaves looked like they were eaten by bugs. Thanks!
    – Tikhon
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 0:52
  • If you continue to have trouble you might try West India Burr Gherkins or Metki melons (Armenian cucumbers) as a hardier substitute for cucumbers. Remember that where some kinds of crops fail to thrive, others will do just fine (for instance, tomatoes can do rather well in areas where many crops have trouble). Chicory and milk thistle greens may be easier to grow than lettuce. Horseradish greens, kohlrabi, chard, and collards may be easier to grow than cabbage. Jerusalem artichokes and Stachys officinalis or Stachys floridana than potatoes; sorrel than spinach, summer savory than oregano, etc. Commented May 8, 2019 at 2:09

4 Answers 4


Potatoes are a great choice, you don't even need to till the soil for them. call up your local arborist, and ask them to drop off a load of wood chips, and spread them thick on the area. bury the potatoes 6-12" into the wood chips, and water them about once per week, the wood chips should decompose while the potato plants grow.

Cucumbers, and lettuces on the other hand you're going to want to put the plants in the ground, then mulch around the plants on the surface to 4-6 inches, and as the plant grows move the wood chips around the sides until they're covering the soil well.

The reason why I say wood chips rather than anything else is because the wood chips are packed with nutrients, and are heavy which will allow you to conserve moisture, and only steal the nitrogen right next to the wood chips themselves. They're also a free byproduct of the arborist industry, but they may ask for some funds for gas. Here's some information on wood chip gardening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCtafUgoCX0

If you want to go a step further, you should order some stropharia rugosoannulata from a fungi spawn grower as it will allow you to create a nutrient fungal network, and provide a 4th crop for you.


Your guesses seem to be good.

  • Lettuce should be quickest to grow. It likes good watering and sometimes half-shade. Watch for slugs and snails.
  • Potatoes are very hardy, but they need full sun. Also, watch for bugs.
  • Cucumbers are tricky for beginners, as they often get diseases and can grow bitter sometimes.

I would start with beans and tomatoes, e.v. courgettes and pumpkin: the first two are more obvious about the growth and problems. They will overgrowth weeds. And beans are fast to growth, so if you went wrong, you can redo it. The second two choices are also easy (low maintenance).

Ev. basil and celery, which you can plants also in a pot, and near kitchen.

I find lettuces very difficult because of snails and slugs. The others you mentioned could get pests, which it is difficult to identify as beginner. Potatoes requires also some planing (also for storage) and how to cultivate them depends on climate, but if you had good harvesting, you will have such harvesting easy also in future.


I'm in the UK so the weather is different, but I would say you went for the difficult options - probably by accident.

Cucumbers and watermelons need good soil and lots of water. If you only grow a small number of them (considering the small size of your plot), also you have to get lucky with fertilizing the flowers, since there are separate male and female flowers and they both have to be in flower at the same time, and visited by the same insect! Or for some varieties, you need to remove the male flowers, because pollination and setting seed affects the taste of the crop (and not in a good way!) If you want to try again, plant them in grow-bags not direct in the ground. At least that will eliminate any problems with poor soil and pest and diseases living in the soil.

If you want to grow brassicas, broccoli and cauliflowers are more difficult than "plain" cabbage. They are harder to grow because the plant has to fully develop, without "bolting" (flowering and setting seed) otherwise you don't get a crop. If a cabbage plant grows poorly, at least you can eat it even though it's small.

I can't really comment on corn. In most of the UK (including where I live) the unpredictable weather makes it not worth even trying, but of course it is native to the USA. But as with cucumbers and watermelons, you have to grow a big enough area of corn so the flowers will get pollinated by the wind, otherwise you won't will only be growing biofuel, not food!

I wouldn't bother with potatoes. Your plot is too small to grow a meaningful amount (unless you only want to grow one saucepan full), and if you did produce more you would need the right conditions (cool and dark) to store them. I certainly wouldn't cover some of the garden with wood chips which will take years to decompose just to grow a few.

I would suggest you go for quick growing plants (any sort of salad vegetable), plus peas and beans. Pole and dwarf (or French) beans will both produce huge crops for a long season if you pick them regularly so they keep flowering. Peas are not so productive, but the taste you get from shelling and eating peas (raw) within minutes of picking them is something you can't buy from a shop.

Tomatoes (again, grown in growbags not in the ground) would be another option, if you have the time to water them as much as they need it (which may be more than once a day).

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