Feb 1, 2012

Easiest Vegetables & Fruits to Grow

If your parents didn't garden, if you've never tried (or had success) growing houseplants, if you can barely keep your lawn alive, starting a vegetable garden can be intimidating. But if you've decided the benefits (better nutrition, fewer or zero chemicals, lower grocery bills, a little more self sufficiency) outweigh your fear, start with edibles that are simple to grow. (And P.S.: Although I'm a good gardener, I can't grow houseplants, either!)

Happily, a great many edibles are easy to grow - as long as you have decent soil, have chosen seed that grows well in your area, and are giving the plant the correct amount of sun. Here are a few to try:

Lettuces. It's ridiculously easy to have fresh salad fixings available all spring, fall, and (in milder regions) winter. Lettuces don't even need full sun; in fact, they tend to do better in a little bit of shade, which makes them a great thing to grow under vining crops like cucumbers or green beans. And if you grow your own, you can experiment with a vast variety of lettuces of all kinds of colors, shapes, and tastes. Supermarket lettuce will soon seem a bland food, at best. To keep lettuces growing for the longest amount of time, remove the outer leaves first and always keep at least three inner leaves in tact.

Collards. Again, these couldn't be easier to grow and they also don't mind a little shade. They grow like weeds and if you harvest only the outer leaves, they will produce for a long time. I suggest not waiting until the leaves are as huge as supermarket collards; the older, bigger leaves are more bitter and tough.

Green Beans. There's a reason school teachers often use beans for classroom lessons on seed sprouting! Plop 'em directly into the ground and they will thrive. Warning: You may have a tough time getting any green beans to the table once your family learns how fabulous they taste picked fresh off the vine. Heirloom varieties are usually pole beans, which require a trellis to climb. Bush beans are usually hybrids, but take up less space.

Cucumbers. Whether you like them fresh in salads, want to dehydrate them to make "chips," or want to pickle them, cucumbers are a vining crop that's easy to grow. Choose smaller varieties for pickling.

Tomatoes. Although tomatoes have a "difficult-to-grow" reputation in some circles, if you just give them what they need, they will produce abundant crops of tomatoes that make grocery store tomatoes seem like outright garbage. Start by giving them excellent soil. If you pot them, put them in a huge pot - they need plenty of room for their roots. Make sure the pot has excellent drainage. Place them in full sun. And feed them regularly with a fertilizer designed for tomatoes. (For more details on growing tomatoes, read "Dare to Grow ONE" and "How to Grow Epic Tomatoes.") Tomatoes come in two basic types: Determinate and Indeterminate. Determinate varieties are bushy. Indeterminate types vine.

Radishes. Plant the seeds in the soil in early spring and radishes can be your first crop of the year. In addition to eating them raw, you can cook them like any other root vegetable.

Summer Squash/Winter Squash/Zucchini. Squash need full sun and take up quite a bit of room, but they produce like mad. (One way to make them work in a small garden is to train them up a trellis, as shown in the photo to the left.) Zucchini takes up less space, but is still an easy, abundant plant.

Peas. Like green beans, just plant pea seeds directly in the soil and watch the grow! They'll produce pretty flowers first, then superb food. Some varieties have better tasting pods than others.

Kale. Like collards and lettuce, this is an easy keeper that doesn't mind some shade.

Carrots and Parsnips. If you don't mind carrots and parsnips that aren't perfectly shaped, you'll find these vegetables easy to grow and so much more delicious than store bought. Perfectly shaped carrots and parsnips are more difficult to grow, but if you want to try for them, get a huge Rubbermaid style box, drill tons of holes in the bottom, and fill it with excellent, fine soil. It is twigs, rocks, and clay soil that deform carrots and parsnips.

Garlic and Onions. Both of these are best started from bulbs or cloves, and require next to no attention while they are growing.

Herbs. Pretty much all herbs grow like weeds. Grow them in pots, or they may overtake your garden.

Strawberries & Blueberries. Strawberries are easy to grow from runners or plants, as long as they get full sun. I suggest buying the ever-bearing kind. I've even had luck growing them in part shade. You can also try wild or Alpine strawberries in shadier locations. Blueberries are another good choice. Purchase young plants from a local nursery. They like acidic soil, so if yours is not (or you're not sure if it is), grow them in huge pots and feed them acidic fertilizer.


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