I was momentarily proud of myself the year I grew peas: I tended them for weeks, harvested a big basket full of pods, sat down to shell them...and only ended up with enough for a small side dish. As much as I loved the peas, that was a lot of work for very little payoff.
Photo by J. E. McGowan
If your time is limited, or if you're a beginner gardener and not sure which plants are worth the effort, there's a way to stack the deck in favour of having lots of harvests to enjoy: Plant "high impact" crops. That's a tip from a book called the Twenty Minute Vegetable Gardener, and it's kept me a happy gardener for years.
If you plant hot peppers, for example, a single pepper can add a ton of homegrown flavour to a dish. The same goes for pretty much any herb, which is why I've always got mint and chives in my garden. (They're hard to kill, too.) Lettuce is another easy crop that can be harvested any time, which is why it tops our list of great beginner plants.
Radishes also give a lot of flavour for a little effort. Tomatoes are more work, but they're still within reach for many of us, and the first time you bite into a homegrown, sun-ripened tomato is a serious "wow" moment.
Feel free to plant the peas, too, if you have the time and space. Cautious gardeners may want to stick to just high-impact crops, while the more adventurous can use them for seasoning and salads while waiting for the fussier plants. After all, when I ate that tiny handful of peas, I seasoned it with a few leaves of hardy, high-impact mint.