UF Hack: Let The Farmers Market Guide Garden Planning

There are many ways to obtain food in the city, and your backyard garden can be one of them.

by Aliza Sollins
PHOTO: Susy Morris

If you have dozens of seed catalogs piled up, a garden wish list a mile long, and enough packets left over from last year to cover several acres, try these tips using the farmers market as a guide to help focus your attention as you plan your garden this year.

What is cheap and easy to find at the farmers market?

Zucchini, canning tomatoes, slicing cucumbers, peppers, radishes, the ubiquitous yellow summer squash and even melons are all a dime a dozen in peak season. Make friends with your farmer and show up at the end of the market—you’ll probably get a deal. Ask your farmer if they have “seconds,” which are lower quality but perfectly good for eating and preserving in bulk. You may want to skip past growing these vegetables or only plant a small amount since they will likely be abundant throughout the season.

What is more economical for you to grow yourself?

Think long-term growing versus short-term growing. Broccoli, cauliflower, celery and leeks will take a very long time to grow and will use up space in your small garden for not much harvest yield. On the other hand, fresh herbs, lettuce or other micro-greens, peas, and cherry tomatoes all do well in small-scale gardens. They produce several harvests per crop and you can harvest the amount you want whenever you need. Zucchini flowers are another pricey purchase that you can grow yourself and are best when harvested fresh.

What can’t you find at market?

A gardener’s secret treat is a freshly picked okra pod eaten raw. It’s delicious, and best when the pod is much smaller than the typical size sold at the farmers market. Try planting a few stalks for this special (and very gut-healthy) treat. Ground cherries, stinging nettle and tulsi basil are on my personal list of hard-to-find items to grow this year.

What is beneficial for your garden?

While the farmers market is for groceries, your garden isn’t just about growing food. You may want to grow plants that attract beneficial insects and encourage biodiversity and beauty in your garden, such as alyssum, fennel, hairy vetch and others.

So be strategic in the coming growing season. You might not have a lot of land to grow on, but you can surely maximize what you have while accentuating your diet at the same time.

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