Growing your own vegetables is economic, healthy, and fun! So what are you waiting for? There’s no need to be tentative when you choose these easy vegetables to grow in your first veggie patch. Give a couple of these – or all of these – a try this year!
Tomatoes are certainly among the most popular vegetables for backyard gardeners. They’re easy to grow and come in a wide variety of sizes, textures, and even flavors.
Planting Advice: For beginners, it’s easiest to buy transplants at your local garden center. Work some compost into the soil and be sure to provide support as they begin to grow. And don’t forget to water – this is the best way to keep tomato plants healthy and strong. See more tomato growing tips here.
Harvest Tips: You can store ripe tomatoes at room temperature for a few days. To keep them longer, store in a dry, fairly cool location. But taste-lovers beware: If kept in temperatures below 55 degrees, tomatoes lose their flavor.
Top Picks: Super Sauce, Casady’s Folly, Jasper (see more here)
Daucus carota var. sativus
Ironically, Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, didn’t care for carrots. What’s up with that? They’re packed with vitamin A—good for eyes and skin. And what about that satisfying crunch? Ahhh—it’s love at first bite.
Planting Advice: Three to four weeks before the last frost, sow seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, two to three per inch, in loose, well-draining soil; rows 1 to 11/2 feet apart. When sprouts are 1 inch tall, thin to two per inch for small varieties; one every 1 to 2 inches for larger carrots. To extend the harvest through fall, plant a new crop every three to four weeks until midsummer.
Harvest Tips: Ready to pick in 65 to 80 days. Harvest small varieties when roots are 1/2 inch in diameter, 1 inch for larger varieties. To store, cut off leafy tops 1 inch above roots and refrigerate.
Top Picks: Orbit (small round), Little Finger (baby), Red-Cored Chantenay, Danvers 126.
Tasty Heirlooms: Paris Market (round, reddish-orange), Scarlet Nantes, St. Valery
Mashed, baked, grilled or fried, potatoes are a staple for balanced, healthy meals. And they’re easier to grow than you might expect—and packed with fiber, minerals and nutrients. Just watch the butter and sour cream!
Planting Advice: Purchase disease-free seed potatoes for best results. Roughly six to eight weeks before the last frost date, or as soon as the soil is dry but workable, place either whole small potatoes or small pieces with at least one “eye” about 1 foot apart in a 1- to 4-inch-deep trench; space rows 2 feet apart. When shoots appear, cover with a ridge of soil.
Harvest Tips: Gently dig up tubers after the vines die; for “new” potatoes, dig earlier. Late-maturing varieties store better. Store in a cool, dark place with good air circulation. If eyes sprout, remove and move to a cooler location, or use immediately.
Top Picks: Norland (red skin, early harvest), Pontiac (red skin, summer harvest).
Tasty Heirlooms: All Blue, All Red, French Fingerling, German Butterball
Versatile lettuce is easy to grow, yields a bumper crop in small spaces and is largely pest- and disease-resistant. Plus, the yellow, bronze, pink and cherry-red varieties make great ornamentals—and add color to salads. What’s not to like?
Planting Advice: Around two weeks before the last frost, plant seeds in full sun or partial shade, 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart in fertile, well-draining soil. Thin seedlings to 12 inches apart. For a fall or early-winter harvest, sow seeds every two weeks, starting at least eight weeks before the first frost.
Harvest Tips: Ready to pick in 40 to 85 days. Use quickly; lettuce doesn’t keep long.
Top Picks: Buttercrunch, Green Ice, Little Caesar (Romaine).
Tasty Heirlooms: Amish Deer Tongue, Grandpa Admire’s, Gold Rush, Red Leprechaun, Susan’s Red Bibb, Yugoslavian Red
Baba ganoush, that tasty Middle Eastern dip, is just one of many delicious dishes you can make with eggplant. Bonus points: The fruits come in different colors, which make them striking landscape ornamentals.
Planting Advice: Transplants work best. Start seeds indoors two months before soil warms. After last frost and when soil warms up, set transplants every 18 to 24 inches in full sun; space rows 30 to 36 inches apart.
Harvest Tips: Ripe in 50 to 80 days. Pick when 6 to 8 inches long and shiny; keep green “hats” and a bit of stem attached. But fruit length doesn’t always signal maturity, so use the thumb test: If the flesh rebounds when gently pressed, it’s ripe. Handle with care; eggplants bruise easily. They spoil fast, too, so cook them quickly.
Top Picks: Black Bell, Ghostbuster (white), Slim Jim (compact), Easter Egg (yellow ornamental).
Tasty Heirlooms: Applegreen, Casper, Guyo Kumba (red), Lao Green Stripe, Listada de Gandia, Rosa Bianca, Round Mauve, Udumalapet
Zucchini is a member of the squash family, and so easy to grow that most folks wind up with piles and piles of these summer veggies. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to prepare this vegetable, making it welcome all summer long.
Planting Advice: Zucchini need full sun and well-draining soil. Sow four or five seeds in a 1-inch-tall hill after last frost. When seedlings reach 2 or 3 inches tall, thin to two healthy plants per hill. For bush-types, plant seeds 1 inch deep every 3 inches, then thin to one every 24 to 36 inches.
Harvest Tips: Pick when fruits are immature, or they become tough and woody. Harvest long, narrow varieties before they’re 2 inches in diameter and are about 6 to 8 inches long.
Top Picks: Aristocrat, Classic (compact), Cocozelle, Elite, Embassy, President (upright plant), Vegetable Marrow White Bush.
Tasty Heirlooms: Black, Black Beauty, Dark Green, Golden, Grey
Peas and Beans
There are two basic kinds of peas: garden peas, which require shelling, and snow or sugar peas, which yield edible pods. No matter which you prefer, eat ’em with gusto, as these little gems are an excellent source of iron, protein, vitamin C and soluble fiber. Pass the peas, please!
Planting Advice: When soil is workable (near the end of March in cold climates), sow seeds 1 to 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart; 18 inches between rows.
Harvest Tips: Peas generally mature in 54 to 72 days, depending on the variety. Younger peas taste sweeter than more mature peas. Harvest garden peas when the seeds are visible, but before they get too big and the weather gets too hot. Harvest edible-pod peas before the seeds fully develop. Use two hands: one on the vine, the other to pick the peas. Regular picking encourages continued
Top Picks: Snowflake, Daybreak (early), Wando (summer)
Tasty Heirlooms: Amish Snap, Blue Podded, Golden Sweet, Green Arrow, Sutton’s Harbinger
Commonly known as string beans or snap beans, these veggies are one of the most popular around—and for good reason. They’re easy to grow, delicious and nutritious. And if it’s a more colorful garden you seek, good news: Beans come in more than just basic green, thanks to yellow, purple, gold, reddish, green-and-purple and purple-and-yellow heirlooms.
Planting Advice: After the last expected frost date, when the soil is warm, plant bush-bean seeds 1 inch deep and 2 to 4 inches apart, in rows 18 to 24 inches apart. For pole beans, sow seeds 4 to 6 inches apart, with rows 36 inches apart.
Harvest Tips: Ready to pick in 45 to 60 days. Harvest when the pods are firm and crisp, before the seeds in the pods grow too big and get tough. To store, refrigerate in airtight plastic bags.
Top Picks: Blue Lake, Gold Rush, Greencrop; Kentucky Blue
For bush beans: Arikara Yellow, Dragon’s Tongue (purple/yellow pods), Red Swan, Royalty Purple Pod. For pole beans: Cherokee Trail of Tears, Hidatsa Shield, Rattlesnake Snap (green/purple pods), Purple Pod Pole. Kentucky Wonder works as both a bush and pole plant.
A garden without onions? It’s enough to make you cry. Sweet or sharp, onions lend zesty flavor to everything from stews to salads. And what’s finer than a slice of raw onion on a hot-off-the-
grill burger? Not much, IOHO (In Our Humble Opinion).
Planting advice: Onions grow slowly, so get best results from sets—small bulbs less than 1 inch in diameter (though onions grown from seed last longer in storage). Plant when soil is workable, about 1 inch deep and 1 inch apart for green onions and 2 to 4 inches apart for slicing onions; rows 12 to 18 inches apart.
Harvest Tips: Mature in 100 to 120 days. Pull green onions when tops are 6 inches tall; for larger onions, when tops fall over. Let onions dry on the soil for a day, then put them in a box in a sheltered spot for a few weeks. Then bring inside and store in a cool, dry place.
Top Picks: Bermuda, Red Baron, Sweet Spanish, Walla Walla Sweet, Vidalia Sweet.
Tasty Heirlooms: Alisa Craig, Borettanna Yellow, Long Red Florence, Red Wethersfield, Yellow of Parma
There’s nothing quite like a refreshing cucumber salad on a hot summer day. Or garden greens topped with cool, low-calorie cucumber-yogurt dressing. Or pickled cukes—or raw ones, eaten right off the vine. Any way you cut them, they’re a great treat to beat the heat. Just don’t remove the rind or you lose this veggie’s best stuff: fiber and vitamin A.
Planting Advice: It’s best to sow seeds outdoors in full sun and well-draining soil, 1/2 to 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart, two weeks after the last expected frost and when soil warms up. When seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin them to one every foot or two, depending on the variety. For extended harvest, plant another cuke crop in mid-
or late summer.
Harvest Tips: They’re ready to pick in 50 to 100 days, depending on the variety. Harvest when the fruits are green and firm; smaller is better.
Top Picks: Burpless, Caroline (pickling), Salad Bush (compact bush), Sweet Success
Tasty Heirlooms: Boothby’s Blonde, Double Yield, Japanese Climbing, Longfellow, True Lemon,
Mini White, Poona Kheera, Snow’s Fancy
From crisp bells to molten-lava-intensity jalapenos, peppers add color, zest and nutrition to recipes. Bells offer vitamins A, C and K and chilies contain capsaicin, which fights inflammation and arthritis pain. Peppers also add color to gardens.
Planting Advice: When soil is warm and frost danger passes, set transplants 18 to 24 inches apart, in full sun and well-draining soil; water deeply, consistently and uniformly. Use stakes and cages as needed. Note that despite their final color, most bells emerge green, then change color as they mature.
Harvest Tips: Pick bells in 65 to 75 days; chilies in 70 to 85 days. Pick all bell pepper varieties at any size; select firm fruit that breaks away easily. Pick often to encourage more blossoms.
Top Picks: Bell Boy, Cayenne, Jalapeno, Purple Belle, Sweet Banana.
Sweet: Chocolate Beauty, Golden Treasure, Sheepnose Pimento, Tequila Sunrise, Tollies Sweet.
Medium hot: Beaver Dam, Black Hungarian, Aurora, Candlelight.
Hot: Georgia Flame, Red Cap Mushroom
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