The Value of “Feel Good Crops”

Old Timey Cornfield Pumpkin, Dutch Fork pumpkin, feel good crop

Some years ago I think I actually coined the term, “feel good crop.” You see, here in Oklahoma we garden in an extreme environment. We hold the continental US record for the hottest 40 days and nights in a row and, I’ve seen colder winters here than we ever saw on the East Coast. We have fluctuations in temperature and wild swings between drought and flood. Hence, there are times that gardening can truly be a challenge. It’s easy to get discouraged, for instance, when I try to grow carrots or beets. Yes, it can be done, but every plant is a hard earned trophy. Sometimes we have crop failures due to the abrupt and extreme summer heat and drought.

carrots, bunches of carrots
Carrots are a WONDERFUL crop, but in our environment we seem only to have a very tiny window of opportunity to plant, between freezing temps and boiling heat.

We struggle with most crops which require cool or mild temperatures, yet struggle we do, as we want them! At times it can be discouraging. I remember the time I lost my entire crop of snap peas, because of a late freeze. Before then I didn’t even realize such a thing could happen! Later, once real summer sets in, it’s hard to convince some of the more delicate crops not to just fold up and die. Yet, at that very time the weeds start to grow so fast that one would swear they’re trying to pull the hoe out of your hands. They seem to fight back! Because of these struggles I’ve come to appreciate what I call “feel good crops.”

What is a “feel good crop?”

After struggling with other crops I’m often encouraged by others. More delicate plants may languish and die. My feel good crops don’t. In fact, they succeed almost with out fail. If you live in a different climate, your feel good crops will almost certainly be different from mine.

A “feel good crop” is dependable and prolific.

It handles our climate with little intervention and requires little if any protection from pests. Such crops not only handle our climate, they thrive in it. Our summer time challenges are heat, drought and insects.  The feature photo for this article is of the Old Timey Cornfield Pumpkin. This squash has the genetics to shrug off most pests and to thrive in our summertime conditions. Even when it looks like it isn’t doing very well, which isn’t very often, it will still surprise me with “pop up pumpkins” during fall garden cleanup. The first time I tried it, I planted 5 seeds and harvested about 400 lb of delicious pumpkins! So, if all else were to fail, we’ve have this to eat.

A feel good crop can deal with weeds.

Weeds grow at a phenomenal rate in our climate. In July and August I find it nearly impossible to keep up with the weeds. Yet a “feel good crop” will cope with weeds even when I’m not. For instance, we can plant cowpeas early in June and pretty much forget about them. They will out compete most weeds, attract beneficial insects, improve the soil and produce a useful crop, all with minimal effort on the part of the gardener. Additionally, they have beautiful flowers. If I couldn’t plant anything else, I’d scatter cowpeas in my garden to keep it from being overrun with weeds. It would look lush and produce lots of useful food, and that, with almost no attention. Cowpeas make me feel like a gardening success! Sturdy varieties of corn also fit the bill. In fact, a combination of the two is amazing

Why Grow Non Sweet Corn

My corn patch may look a mess, but it produces well and, when I clean up the cornstalks, the remaining weeds are easy to deal with. Corn helps me to conquer Oklahoma weeds.

A “feel good” crop looks good, even impressive.

Every one of my favorites also makes quite an impression. The squash, corn and cowpeas all grow rampantly. When one looks at them it’s unmistakable that they are doing well, even better than the weeds. In my mind’s eye they also look beautiful, though not everyone will necessarily share my opinion.

Sun chokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, in bloom
Jerusalem artichokes (Sunchokes) thrive under a wide range of conditions and produce beautiful flowers before a plentiful harvest of roots.

Jerusalem Artichokes are definitely a “feel good crop” for many gardeners.

An Oregon Cottage Simple Homesmade Life’s List of Easy Garden Crops

Sweet potatoes are yet another encouraging crop which I grow every year. They fit the bill in every way. At the end of the hot season I may “limp” out to the garden, still feeling the “scars” from the summer’s battles, but during that difficult time I didn’t have to do anything with the sweet potatoes, except water them. Then, at harvest time, we dig a huge crop of absolutely delicious roots. Those roots feed us for most of the coming year. Even if the garden looks unkempt, when I harvest sweet potatoes… it’s alright!

curing sweet potatoes, harvesting sweet potatoes, sweet potato harvest
Sweet Potato harvest

There are more “feel good crops,” but what qualifies a crop depends quite a bit on both the gardener and the climate in which they garden. Do you have a favorite “feel good crop,” not mentioned hear? We’d love it if you used the comments area to tell us about it.


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