8 Tips to Choose What Vegetables to Grow in Your Raised Bed Garden

Cayenne pepper plant growing in a garden

If you're a new gardener, choosing what vegetables to grow in your garden can be overwhelming. These tips will help you decide what you should plant, and what seeds you should buy.

What vegetables should you grow in your raised bed garden?

Every spring you can walk into big box stores, farm stores, feed stores and more and find a large display of seeds. Hundreds of packets of seeds with bright, eye-catching photos of gorgeous plants and flowers.

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Or go online to look at seed websites, where even more beautiful photos encourage you to buy their seeds.

It's too easy to pick up packet after packet until your hands are full and you're beyond excited to get them all in the ground.

It can be hard to choose what vegetables to grow in your garden, whether you're planting in the ground, in raised beds or in containers.

Deciding what to plant is hard.

These 8 tips will help you choose what vegetables to grow in your raised bed garden. 

1. Grow what you love to eat

First, grow what you and your family like to eat. 

That's a no-brainer, right? If your family doesn't like kale, don't grow kale. 

If you love salads, grow a variety of salad vegetables such as loose leaf lettuce and other greens, radishes, green onions and so on.

A salad garden with lettuce and onions.

2. Grow what's expensive to buy at the store

I'm sure you've noticed that some fresh fruits and vegetables are really expensive to buy at the grocery store. 

I love fresh berries, for instance. While strawberries aren't too terribly expensive as long as you buy them in season, raspberries and blackberries are harder to find, and are always high in price.

Blackberry bush

(I was thrilled to find that we had wild blackberries growing in our back pasture. And when I braved the thorns and chiggers and the occasional snake, I realized just why blackberries are so expensive.)

Planting and growing your favorite vegetables and fruits is a great way to save money on your grocery bill, and still eat the foods you love.


3. Grow what's on the "dirty dozen" list

Each year the Environmental Working Group updates their list of the twelve fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue. Source

Grow your favorite foods that are on this list in your own garden so you'll know they are organically grown and safe to consume.

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In 2022, strawberries and spinach had the highest level of pesticides. Kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peppers, cherries, peaches, pears, celery and tomatoes are also on the Dirty Dozen list.

4. Grow the vegetables and fruits that taste so much better fresh

Let's face it, canned asparagus tastes nothing like fresh, crisp asparagus harvested at just the right time.

You can roast, grill, sauté, and prepare fresh asparagus in so many ways that are impossible with limp, soggy asparagus from a can. (Try my recipe for cream of asparagus soup here - an absolutely delicious way to enjoy spring asparagus.)

And frozen spinach bears no resemblance to fresh spinach.

I'm sure you can think of a few other vegetables and fruits that taste so much better when fresh.

Onions growing in a raised garden bed.

5. Grow what grows well in your growing zone

My daughter who lives in the Rocky Mountains has such a short growing season that she can barely grow cherry tomatoes. Trying to grow beefsteak tomatoes, which require much more time to mature than cherry tomatoes, would be a waste of her limited garden space.

Likewise, trying to grow lettuce all summer in my Oklahoma garden would be a waste of my efforts. Lettuce and other cool season crops don't flourish in our very hot summers.

On the other hand, okra grows extremely well in Oklahoma. Rhubarb grows very well in colder climates and is very hard to grow in Oklahoma.

You can find your garden zone here at Garden.Org, and your first and last frost dates here at Dave's Garden, which will also tell you the approximate length of your growing season. 

You'll find relevant information on the back of seed packets, with maps of growing zones and the number of days until harvest so you'll know if those seeds will grow well for you or not. 

The seed packet will also tell you when to plant - in early spring or after all danger of frost, for instance. 

Some warm-weather crops such as tomatoes and peppers are best started indoors and transplanted when the weather is warmer. In this case, the seed packet will tell you to "sow seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last frost date." 

Now that you're armed with your last frost date (which you obtained from the Dave's Garden site), you can subtract six weeks from that date - and now you know exactly when to start your seeds indoors.

6. Grow what fits in your space

If you have a small garden, you might not want to grow space hogs like squash and melons (although you can grow those plants vertically to save space).

Huge vegetable plants that take up a lot of space.

Or if your garden consists of containers, choose smaller varieties that are better suited to small spaces. You'll find loads of information in my post on growing vegetables in a container garden.

7. Grow plants that will grow well in your garden's location

Most fruits and vegetables grow best in full sun, so if your garden space is less than ideal, choose varieties that can tolerate some shade. My ebook How to Grow Vegetables and Herbs in a Shady Garden can help you.

8. Grow "ingredients"

If you're new to gardening, you might still be wondering what you should grow. How do you make a list of vegetables to grow in your new garden?

Consider what you buy at the grocery store, fresh, frozen or canned. You know your family will eat these vegetables and fruits and you know what dishes you can make with them.

But don't stop there. Think of a garden as a place where you'll grow ingredients.

What prepared items do you purchase now? Pickles, for instance. Tomato sauce. Fresh and dried herbs and spices. These items are made from "ingredients" that you can grow instead of buying at the grocery store.

Cucumbers can be eaten fresh in salads but can also be pickled. And don't be intimidated, making pickles isn't difficult!

Tomatoes are one of the most versatile foods you can grow. As well as being delicious when eaten fresh, you can cook them into tomato sauce, tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and ketchup, and make salsa or stuffed tomatoes. 

Add your homegrown tomatoes to tomato-based dishes such as elephant beans and chili. Make tomato juice and tomato soup (click there for my recipe!). Dehydrate tomato skins for tomato powder you can add to soups and stews. 

Homegrown fruits can be used in smoothies, made into jelly and jams, canned, used in desserts such as pies and cobblers and more.

Think of ways you can use those vegetables and fruits other than just as a simple side dish. Think of them as ingredients instead.

These are the seeds you should buy. These are the plants you should grow.

Where I buy my seeds

I buy most of my seeds from Mary's Heirloom Seeds

Mary sells over 700 varieties of open-pollinated, heirloom seeds. I love supporting small businesses, and I've been very happy with the quality and germination of the seeds I've ordered from Mary.

You can read about why heirloom seeds are important in your garden in this guest post from Mary.

If Mary doesn't carry a specific variety that I'm looking for, I check Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They also have a large selection of open-pollinated, heirloom seeds.

Learn about the nine warm-weather vegetables I recommend growing in raised beds, and the one popular summer vegetables that I don't recommend.

For even more information

Here's how I keep my seeds organized so I don't end up with six kinds of tomatoes and no carrot seeds.

If you don't use all the seeds in your packets this year, here's how to store them correctly so you can plant them next year.

Common garden words and phrases for beginning gardeners

Learn the steps to planning and planting a homestead orchard in this post.

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Need more advice to decide what you should grow in your garden? Sixty gardening experts share their advice and their favorite vegetables in this post.


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