Vegetable gardening has many benefits—for the environment, your health, and your wallet. Yet growing your own does not come without its disappointments and part of this has to do with the simple fact that it involves nature, which can involve pests, plant diseases, poor soil, and unpredictable weather. Those of us who’ve fallen prey to these factors, or to just plain old bad planning, can attest that some vegetables are easier grown than others.
For instance, I tried to grow pumpkins and watermelons last year. Although these grow fine in hot summer climates, I live in the Bay Area, where it gets hot, but not hot enough. Then there’s the fact that these plants takes months to mature, so while you’re weeding, watering, and maintaining them, you have to wait forever to finally get a reward. That is, if they don’t succumb to a disease, like mine did. If you’re a beginner, or someone who likes semi-instant gratification (who doesn’t?), or don’t have lots of time and/or money to invest, there are easier vegetables to start with.
Warm Weather Crops
Although growing the perfect tomato does take some skill, most gardeners or apartment dwellers with a good sized pot can do it. They like it hot, so plant them in spring for a summer growing season; in cooler climates, you may see lower yield. Make sure you amend the soil with compost, as tomatoes like rich soil. You can start tomatoes from seed, but this takes advance preparation, and beginners might want to purchase seedlings from a nursery. Look for those varieties that are resistant to the common tomato diseases—fusarium wilt, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus, and verticillium wilt.
Zucchinis are known for their prolific nature; usually it’s advised to plant no more than one plant per person, as you’ll become overwhelmed with goods. With a good amount of sun and heat, most novice gardeners find success. Seedlings can be found at most nurseries in spring; they are also easy to grow from seed.
Peppers, both sweet and spicy, like long, warm growing seasons. Set out seedlings once the soil has reached at least sixty-five degrees and keep the seedlings moist with drip irrigation.
Bush beans and pole beans grow quickly and are a good choice for small gardens. Harvest beans when they are young for best taste and lasting production.
Not all herbs are easy to grow, but you can’t go wrong with rosemary, thyme, and sage, all of which like hot weather and are drought-tolerant once established. Basil and cilantro (look for the “bolt-free” variety) are annuals that are also easy to grow and very rewarding.
Cool Weather Crops
Easy to start from seed and fast to mature, peas are a fun to vegetable to grow and eat. Many varieties are climbers, so you’ll need a trellis, fence, or some type of support for the vines to wind around. They don’t like it hot and will stop producing when temperatures get over seventy degrees, so plant in early spring or late summer for fall harvest.
Lettuce can be grown easily in pots or in the ground. It matures fast, so will reward you with fresh greens in no time and you can plant in succession so that once you harvest, a new crop will be on the way. In hot weather, lettuce will “bolt” or go to seed, so plan at the end of summer for a fall crop or after the last frost for a spring crop.
Spinach matures quickly and can go from seed to harvest in about forty days. It doesn’t like hot weather, so it’s best grown in the fall or early spring. You can easily grow it in containers that are partially shaded by climbing plants like peas.
This versatile green takes around sixty days to mature, but the young leaves are the most tender, so they can be harvested as soon as they appear. Since the leaves can withstand cold temperatures, kale can be planted in the fall for a winter harvest.
Of course, even these relatively straightforward crops need the essentials—an ample amount of sunlight, good soil, and regular watering and weeding. But if all goes well (cross your fingers!), you’ll be a vegetable farmer in no time. And if it doesn’t, there’s always the farmer’s market.