Deanna over at Crunchy Chicken has a post up about her top five picks among edible garden plants. I was going to just respond to her post in a comment, but then I decided to flesh the material out just a bit and make it a post of my own.
Deanna's number one favorite plant is garlic, and I can't possibly disagree with this. Garlic has been utterly trouble free for me in all the years I've grown it. It's a staple of our diet, it stores well in our root cellar, and when we grow the rocambole varieties, we get garlic scapes as a bonus crop. Garlic also fits neatly into a busy gardening year. Harvest comes in late June or early July - just when the spring planting is done and before the onslaught of tomatoes and other crops really start to become management issues. I did a write up of my garlic planting technique a few years back. I don't know if it's the technique that gives me such great garlic crops, or if all my efforts are superfluous and the garlic would do just as well on its own. But it sure is one of my favorites to grow.
A less obvious pick for my number two is asparagus. Even though there's very delayed gratification with asparagus (as with many perennial plants), it's still a favorite. Once you get past the minor hassle of planting, it's unfussy, produces for 15-20 years, and is sooo delicious. It gets bonus points for being an early spring crop. This time of year we're desperate for homegrown foods, and asparagus plugs the gap.
Culinary herbs definitely make the list, especially the perennial ones. I like anything I can plant once and harvest many times. But even the annuals will often self-seed, as the cilantro from last year has done. Herbs can be grown by just about anyone, whether you have access to a bit of earth or not. They're also completely unfussy once established (are we noticing a trend here?) Plus, growing my own herbs saves me a lot of money, since herbs are among the most expensive produce at a market. Many of them dry well. Cooking without herbs would just be boring, so I'd probably want them around even if they were more difficult to grow. And if you really get into culinary herbs, you can continue the adventure by exploring the medicinal uses of them too.
Potatoes have to be on my list. They are one of the very few calorie crops that grow reliably in my area. They almost certainly will grow reliably in your area too. Potatoes are adaptable to many climates, and as I found out two years back, even if the dreaded late blight hits there is a means to salvage a crop. While there are tales of prodigious yields on potatoes, as much as 20x or 30x the weight of the seed potatoes planted, these remain for me an El Dorado. I've been content with my 10-15x increases. Even in a truly bad growing year I've seen 5x. Beyond their adaptability as plants, potatoes are incredibly versatile as foodstuffs. There are so many ways to prepare and eat potatoes, and they're all delicious. If you choose the right varieties to grow, they store very well. They're no slouches in the nutrition department either. As I learned in Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener, potatoes are also surprisingly high in both protein and vitamin C.
Even though the urban legends about zucchini (courgettes for you British - or French - types) being left on doorsteps in the dead of night are legion, it still makes my top five list. Mind you, you only need one zucchini plant if your family members number four or less. Zucchini is incredibly productive, so growing too many plants is a recipe for stress if not trauma. I love growing zucchini because it is just such an exuberant plant. It doesn't ask much, and if you get a bush variety, it won't even take up that much space. My plant always gets powdery mildew, and eventually, squash bugs. But it carries on gallantly, producing until mid-summer. Frankly, by then I'm quite content to let it go and move on to eating other crops. Until that point there are just so many wonderful uses for zucchini: stir-fries, grilling, bi bim bap, and of course, morning glory muffins, zucchini bread, and chocolate cake.
So what about you? What are your favorite crops to grow in your garden?