If Frontera Grill chef Rick Bayless can grow vegetables for his restaurant in his urban Chicago backyard, you should be able to plot out something to at least tide you over from trips to the grocery store or farmers' market. Here are suggestions for favorite plants and some more adventuresome choices to shake things up a bit. This plan is for a 20' x 20' backyard plot, with planting dates and other hints.
Note: The date is for planting seeds in the ground unless otherwise noted
Celeriac (celery root)
May 20, 115 days ($.95)
Harvest the rustic-looking root; it's good in winter soups for a nutty, earthy flavor.
Lima beans (Henderson bush)
May 25, 68 days ($1.35)
An early bean and fairly compact for your small garden.
April 15, 40-50 days ($1.25)
A pack of mixed lettuce seeds will give you an assortment of red and green, sweet and bitter leaves to use in a salad.
April 15, 38 days ($1.15)
Arugula may fade in the hot days of summer, but may well come back without replanting as cooler days come in fall.
April 15, 55-70 days ($1.15)
April 15, 21-30 days ($.85)
Be sure to thin seedlings so your radishes and carrots have space to develop. Try a white or yellow carrot for variety or an heirloom radish seed, which may be more peppery. Radish greens can also be eaten raw in salads or cooked like kale or mustard greens.
April 15, 50-60 days ($1.35)
Chard will produce nicely throughout the growing season without taking up too much room; it's a win-win. "Fordhook" is a classic pick for a variety.
April 15, ($1.15)
While fronds can be snipped throughout the summer and used to flavor salads and soups, harvest the bulb in the fall before frost.
June 1 (plants), 60-70 days ($.95)
Peppers like hot weather, so don't plant them too early. Jalapeños and cayenne peppers tend to produce well in a Wisconsin summer. Sweet peppers seem more finicky.
May 1 (plants), 50-60 days ($1)
The frilly white head will surprise you in late summer, hiding down in the heart of the plant. Cauliflower fresh from the garden is sweet and nutty, a revelation if you're used to the grocery store's cellophane-wrapped variety.
May 1 (plants), 60-70 days ($1.15)
If you're looking for a plant to skip, maybe cabbage is the one. It's fairly dependable, which can be satisfying, but each large plant produces just one head of cabbage.
May 20 (plants), 65-80 days ($1.25)
Six tomato plants can keep you in tomatoes for most of the season with salads, sauces and fresh pizzas. If you're planning on doing a lot of canning, plant more.
If you grow all your plants from seeds, the entire seed bill should come in under $15; if you buy your tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower and cabbage as seedlings from a nursery or at the farmers' market, it'll be slightly more expensive.