Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
You know that home-grown vegetables taste great. You also like the fact that with a home garden, you can save money and avoid harmful pesticides. Perhaps you’ve even experienced the satisfaction that comes with growing your own food.
But what if you’ve never had much of a green thumb? If you lack gardening experience, starting your own vegetable garden can seem pretty overwhelming. Here’s the good news – many vegetables are surprisingly easy to grow.
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Before you begin your garden plan, be sure to check this USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to find out when it is best to plant vegetables in your area. The map divides North America into 11 growing zones that are based on climate. Then check the hardiness zone on your plant container or seed packet to make the best purchasing and planting decisions.
Now, here is our list of ten vegetables that even brand-new gardeners can’t mess up.
There’s something very rewarding about growing your own salad fixings, and it is easy to do. You can plant lettuce, which is a cool weather plant, in spring or fall. Lettuce grows well in both garden beds and containers. You can even tuck lettuce plants in and around flowers if you’d like. Spinach has similar needs as lettuce but is even more cold-tolerant.
Lettuce prefers sun or partial shade and well-drained soil, and it is ready to harvest when the head appears fully grown. Harvesting is easy; you just snip off the leaves as you need them. To keep your supply of fresh lettuce going, plant a few small crops at a time. Here is a helpful article about growing lettuce from Southern Living Magazine.
A few tips: Harvest lettuce in the morning before the sun can wilt the leaves. Try planting garlic or chives around your lettuce plants to help keep pests at bay.
2. Green Beans
Green beans come in many varieties, and most are super easy to grow. If you choose a pole bean variety, be sure to include trellises for them to wind around as they mature. Bush varieties grow along the ground and require less space than pole beans. Bush beans also usually do not have strings.
Green beans like full sun and well-drained soil. Here is a good beginner’s guide to growing green beans.
Tip: If your beans plants begin to yellow, you probably need to add nitrogen to your soil. Try spreading some bone meal around your plants.
Cucumbers are perfect for your home-grown salads and for preserving for later use as pickles. Like beans, cucumbers come in bush varieties and in vining plants that run along the ground or on a trellis. Generally, the vining plants produce more cucumbers, while bush varieties are better suited to containers or small gardens.
Cucumbers prefer full sun and well-drained soil. They grow quickly, so check your vines daily. To remove fruit, cut the stem above the fruit with a knife or clippers. Pulling them off may damage the vine. This article from growveg.com will help you get started with your cucumber crop.
Tip: Look for patio cucumbers that grow well in pots and containers. Water your garden cucumbers with a soaker hose or drip irrigation system to prevent common leaf diseases caused by excess moisture.
Do you know someone who is always armed with an armful of zucchini to give away in the summer? That should give you some idea of how easy squash is to grow.
Squash plants like full sun and well-drained warm soil. They are a vining plant, so you can allow them to run along the ground or offer them a trellis. Some of the squash varieties that do well in containers include Bush Acorn, Black Magic Zucchini, and Bush Crookneck. Harvest To Table offers solid information on growing zucchini at home in this article.
Tips: Avoid pulling on the stem to harvest squash. It is best to snip off the vine with scissors to avoid damaging the fruit. Plant marigolds and nasturtiums near your squash to help keep pests away.
5 & 6. Carrots and Radishes
Root vegetables such as carrots and radishes are good choices for beginning gardeners. Both are considered fast-growing cool weather crops. They also are fun planting projects for children – especially if you can plant them in a see-through five-gallon bucket that allows kids to see the underground growth process.
Tips: Take care not to overcrowd seeds and make sure the dirt is loose enough for rapid growth. Once seedlings emerge, thinning may be required for healthy growth.
These aromatic plants, including jalapeños, bell peppers, banana peppers, and cayenne peppers, like the heat. If you wait until after the threat of frost has passed to plant, they will reward you with quick growth.
Pepper plants prefer direct sun and well-drained soil. Be careful to give them plenty of water and to keep away weeds that can siphon off their moisture supply. Bonnie Plants offers helpful information on growing peppers in your home garden in this article.
Tip: Peppers come in many sizes and varieties, including ornamental and dwarf kinds. You will know they are ready for harvest when the peppers have turned bright red, green, or yellow. If the colors start to fade, you have waited too long for peak freshness.
Fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes and summer just seem to go together. And tomatoes are one of the mainstays of the home garden. In fact, there is no comparison in taste between a home-grown tomato and a store-bought one. Plus, tomatoes are versatile; you can use them as is or freeze or can them for later use.
You can start tomatoes indoors four to six weeks before the last frost date, or you can purchase seedlings. Plant tomato plants in areas of full sunlight in soil that drains well. Tomato leaves can turn yellow because of watering issues (too much or too little) or lack of nitrogen. Add bone meal around the base of each plant to solve a nitrogen shortage. Get some inside tips on how to plant, grow and harvest tomatoes in this article from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Tip: Don’t plant tomatoes and peppers next to each other. Keep a few rows between the two different kinds of plants to avoid cross-pollination by bees that will adversely affect the taste of your veggies.
Okra is a drought-tolerant plant that loves the heat. You can plant your okra seeds in the ground as soon as nighttime temperatures reach 55 degrees. If that is too far along in the season for your liking, you can sow them indoors and transfer outdoors when things warm up. With consistent moisture, okra can withstand high temperatures. Here is an article from Good Housekeeping on how to grow okra in your home garden.
Tip: Okra plants flower in the morning, and you can pick the pods when they are three- to five inches in length. If you wait too long to harvest, the okra will become tough and less flavorful.
Nothing says autumn quite like a pumpkin patch – even if it is a small one. Like their smaller squash cousins, pumpkins are easy to grow. Best known for their bright orange hue, pumpkins actually come in a variety of colors and sizes. Some are good for baking, and others are good for carving.
Pumpkins prefer full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Pumpkin vines do need room to spread, but if you have a small space you can accommodate their sprawl by planting them at the edge of your garden. Here is a comprehensive article about pumpkin gardening from The Old Farmer’s Almanac. And if your goal is to grow the largest pumpkins possible for Halloween carving, here is an article from Burpee titled How to Grow Huge Pumpkins.
Tip: Pumpkin plants need a lot of water and soil nutrition to stay healthy. A soaker hose works best since foliage can develop rot and other diseases with frequent sprinkling. You can train small pumpkin varieties to vine up a trellis.
Some final words of advice for the beginning gardener: When we start out, many of us dream of a big vegetable garden that can feed our families at every meal. The reality is that those gardens require a lot of space, time, and attention.
It is okay – in fact, it is preferable – to start small as a new gardener. Be ready to take what you learn into the next gardening season.
In addition to selecting your plants from the above list, here are a few other considerations.
- Location, location, location. Find a spot for your garden that gets plenty of sunlight and protection from wind. Take into consideration the garden’s proximity to water.
- Make use of the space you have. You can grow veggies in raised beds and in containers. Hanging baskets and vertical gardens are other ways to make efficient use of your space.
- Forget rows. Rows may work for farmers and heavy equipment, but home gardeners don’t need them. Find creative ways to combine plants underneath and between other larger plants.
Want to learn more? Here are some well-illustrated and informative books designed for beginning home gardeners:
- The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
- Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook
- The Backyard Gardener: Simple, Easy, and Beautiful Gardening with Vegetables, Herbs, and Flowers
- Grow Your Own Food Made Easy: Nutritious Organic Produce from Your Own Garden, A Step-by-Step Guide
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