For the last couple of months we have talked about why you should garden and what you can do to get started. For my last post in this series I thought we could talk about 7 easy vegetables to grow for a new gardener. So why is this important? Over the years as I have taught many gardening classes I’ve found that the key to someone starting a garden and then continuing on is having some very early success. So let’s take a look at 7 easy vegetables to grow.
Lettuce is a great beginner crop. You plant lettuce early in the spring and then you can replant in early August for a nice fall crop as well. In fact plant breeders have now even developed some varieties of lettuce that can stand up to the heat of the summer and still stay crisp and tasty. (click here to learn more about summer crisp lettuces)
There are basically 3 types of lettuce that do well in home gardens. Leaf, butter crunch and romaine. For most home gardeners the traditional “iceberg” lettuce that you get at the grocery store is a little difficult to grow, so stay away from them. Instead choose from the huge array of both colors and textures that are available. Be sure to search the web or seed catalogs for lots of fun types of lettuce to grow. Don’t limit yourself to the 4 varieties you can get on the seed rack at the local home improvement store. Branch out and find lots of tasty lettuces to grow in your home garden.
Everyone needs to grow some tomatoes. Once you have tasted a home grown, vine ripened tomato you may never go back to the grocery store again for tasteless commercially grown tomatoes. Two or three tomato plants are easy to maintain and can be very productive. Be sure to buy a good quality, large tomato cage for each plant you put in. The cages help support the growing plants and keep the fruit off the ground and away from pests.
There is a big push in the gardening world to move back to Heirloom tomatoes. I think that’s great and we grow some ourselves and love them. But Heirlooms are a little more difficult to grow. If I was just starting out I think I would plant 3 tomato plants, 1 cherry, 1 with medium size fruit and 1 with a large fruit. There are literally thousands of tomato varieties out there to choose from so it’s hard for me to really suggest a variety. But for the beginner I would choose hybrids that have good disease resistance and are easy to grow. Also you should plant tomatoes from starts not from seeds so go to your local garden nursery and chose some good healthy starts to begin your tomato growing adventure.
Zucchini or other summer squashes (including yellow, crook-neck, and patty pan) are quite easy to grow. They are also one of the most productive plants you can grow in your garden and one of the quickest to produce (some have fruit ready to pick in just 60 days). Summer squash plants take up quite a bit of room so be sure to give them some space. They can be planted by seed directly in the garden as soon as you have passed your last frost date.
There are many types to choose from so have fun trying different types from year to year. We always plant our favorite Zucchini but we also experiment with different colors and sizes of other summer squash. One warning for the new gardener, all types of summer squashes are very productive! Be careful not to plant too much, one healthy plant can produce 30 pounds of fruit in a season so be sure you really like zucchini before you put in more than one or two plants!
Who doesn’t love the cool crisp taste of fresh cumbers in the summer time! Whether for fresh eating or for pickling, cucumbers are one of the best plants for a new gardener to grow. Most cucumbers grow on long vines (although there are a few “bush” varieties out there). Because of the long vines it’s best to grow them on some type of trellis. A short 4 foot row of cucumbers with a good trellis can produce 50 pounds of fruit in a season. They are usually producing by mid summer and will continue to produce until early fall when the frost kills the vines.
Be sure to plant the type of cucumber you want for what you are going to use them for. There are two types, pickling and slicing and each is better for its intended use. If you would like both there is no reason why you couldn’t plant slicing and pickling cucumbers side by side.
One of the best ways to get your kids excited about your new garden is to let them plant their own pumpkins!! One or two pumpkin plants can produce 6 to 8 jack-o-lantern sized pumpkins. Pumpkins are simple to grow and care for and the kids will have a blast watching them grow and develop. One thing to keep in mind with pumpkins is they take up a lot of space!! I’ve had 2 pumpkin plants over grow a 4 x 8 bed. So be sure that you want to dedicate all that space before you plant this fun garden crop.
Let’s face it, Kale is kind of an acquired taste. You won’t catch your kids out in the garden stealing a kale leaf like you might catch them in your strawberry patch. But kale is becoming more and more popular for gardeners because it is so dang good for you! Kale is a super food packed with tons of nutrition. And it’s easy to grow.
Here’s a hint . . Most of the kale you buy from the grocery store was grown in the spring and summer; it tends to be tough and very strong tasting. Kale is very hardy, so try planting your kale in mid summer, and time it so that it is ready to harvest after your fall frost date. The cool (and even freezing) temperatures of fall and early winter change the taste and texture of Kale. It becomes sweet, mild and tender after a few good coatings of frost. Or try planting it early in the spring and harvesting it as baby kale when the leaves are still mild and tender.
Strawberries are one of the most rewarding and easiest crops to grow. You plant them from either starts or “bare root” (bought bulk, and very cheap from many online nurseries). We choose to grow Ever-Bearing Strawberry plants and plant them bare root. The fruit is always smaller than the traditional June bearing plants but you get the benefit of several crops throughout the year starting in June and continuing until the frost comes in late fall.
Strawberries do take up some space but the nice thing about them is they only need to be replanted every 3 to 5 years. So the one time investment in plants gives you many years of tasty berries!
So for all you new gardener lets get going with these 7 easy vegetables to grow!! Please feel free to visit our blog Stoney Acres for more great gardening tips and you are welcome to ask questions there and I will do my best to help!!
This post was featured first on Bakerette.com. Thanks again to Jeni for allowing me to guest post!