On one hand, the idea of growing your own vegetables is tempting. You like the idea of saving a few dollars at the supermarket, serving the freshest food possible and knowing how your food was grown. On the other hand you’ve never done it before, have just a little bit of time to devote to upkeep and want to be assured — as much as is possible — that there will be tasty and nutritious foods to harvest.
If that’s about right, read on.
Following are a variety of vegetables that are easy for novice gardeners to grow. Some are suitable for containers, which makes gardening even easier, provided you remember to water.
To See Natalie’s Growing Guide to the Capital Region Click Here
With a little planning and a couple of gadgets, keeping a garden well tended should not take a lot of time or effort. For example, many new gardeners don’t water deeply enough. In general, plants need about an inch of water a week. During prolonged hot periods, more water may be needed.
If watering regularly is a concern, set out soaker hoses next to the seedlings and add a timer to the outdoor faucet. To determine how well the hoses are providing water, place an empty can under the hose, turn the water on and start timing. When the water in the can is an inch deep, you know how long to set the timer for.
For some, weeding a vegetable bed is a dreadful chore. By planning ahead, you can stifle weed growth simply by surrounding seedlings with a few layers of newspapers placed over the soaker hoses. Covering the newspaper with mulch will make it more attractive and keep the paper from blowing away. You will not have to weed all season.
Finally, by choosing vegetables that are easy to grow, it is likely you will have a satisfying harvest. If you imagine there will be more food than you can eat, think of that as a bonus, not a problem. You can freeze what you can’t eat immediately for future meals.
There are other benefits — chemical-free produce, getting a little exercise, and the pleasure and convenience of strolling out into the garden to decide what’s for dinner.
When it comes to what to grow, let your taste buds be your guide. The following are just suggestions of vegetables that are easy to grow.
You can’t go wrong growing carrots. They are high in beta-carotene and help to keep your eyes and skin healthy. They can be eaten fresh or raw. They can be grown in containers or directly in the garden and they make a great snack for the grazing gardener.
Carrots get sown when the earth temperature has warmed to 50 degrees. Cultivate the soil deeply before planting. Carrots germinate slowly, but once they get started are among the easiest vegetables to grow.
Any carrot can be harvested when small, but some varieties grow no larger than 3 inches long and might be fun to try in a child’s garden or patio container.
There are lots of types of beans from bush beans to pole beans to lima beans. If you are new to gardening, try bush beans. The taste is superior to store bought and beans are a relatively easy vegetable to grow. Sow them directly into the ground when the soil reaches 60 degrees.
If you only grow one vegetable, grow tomatoes. You can grow them in the ground, or patio container.
Your reward will be the flavor. Sinking your teeth into a sun-warmed, home-grown tomato is pure bliss.
And they are good for you. Tomatoes contain vitamins C and A and are a rich source of lycopene, a carotenoid that is a powerful antioxidant.
Tomatoes like warm temperatures and full sun. Wait until Memorial Day to do your planting outdoors. As you plant, space seedlings for good air circulation as this will help keep the plants healthy. Tomatoes need consistent watering and regular fertilization.
For novices: as you shop you’ll see that there are determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate means the vine will grow to a set height and the fruit will ripen all at once. Indeterminate means the vine keeps growing and produces fruit over a longer period.
This is another vegetable that likes the heat. You can start them indoors about two weeks before the last frost or seed directly in the garden in early June. There are slicing cucumbers and pickling cucumbers and a few odd ball cukes that are worth growing for the sheer fun of it. For example, some heirloom cucumbers have pearl white skins or are shaped like a lemon with yellow or light green skins.
Nutritionally, cucumbers are rich source of potassium and dietary fiber. They also contain vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, folate, phosphorus and magnesium.
There are so many varieties. Potatoes are very easy to grow and can even be grown in containers.
For container growing, look for mini-tubers. There are many to choose from: some have blue flesh, others are elongated fingerlings and other have bright red skins. Check the garden catalogs for inspiration.
In the garden, potatoes like deeply dug soil. Catalogs suggest planting them in row about 30 inches apart and hilling them — adding soil around leaves as they grow which creates mounds. Potatoes get harvested in earnest at the end of the season when the leaves die back but there is no reason you can’t root around and treat yourself to small fresh potatoes all during the growing season.
Easy nutritious gardening has to include winter squash. They are versatile, store well and are a rich source of vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, manganese, vitamin B1, copper, vitamin B6, niacin-vitamin B3 and pantothenic acid.
Before you wrinkle your nose consider that four leafy greens earned the distinction of being among the top 10 healthiest vegetables based on the percentage of the daily value for five nutrients — vitamin C, folate, potassium, calcium, iron and fiber. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest collard greens, spinach, kale and swiss chard ranked as powerhouses.
In general, leafy greens prefer rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, and benefit from having several inches of aged compost added to the soil before planting. This is especially true for collard greens and kale.
Most leafy greens do best when seeded directly into the vegetable patch. If you are transplanting seedlings, bear in mind that they have shallow roots and need to be kept moist and handled gently.
u Spinach is fast growing and seedlings can survive the chilly spring nights. One trick to growing spinach well is to provide consistent moisture.
u Swiss chard can be sown in May about two to three weeks before last frost, which varies in the Capital Region from May to early June depending on where you live. Chard is easy to grow and some varieties have wonderfully colorful stems. You may decide to plant a few in the flower garden.
u Kale is extremely cold hardy and can be sown four to six weeks before last frost. Sow seeds a half-inch deep every three inches and thin to 18 inches.
u While collards tolerate heat better than most leafy greens, their taste is improved by a frost. Sow seeds a half inch deep every six inches and thin to two feet apart.