If you’re just starting gardening, or have been gardening and had some failures, or even if you’ve been gardening a while but are short on time this year, consider this list of a dozen easy-to-grow popular vegetables. Keep in mind that you should enjoy eating it to grow it!
The most popular vegetable to grow is the tomato. Decide if you want determinate tomatoes–those that stop growing when they produce fruit, or indeterminate types–those that keep growing. Determinate types usually mature earlier and with less fruit, and need less staking. Dwarf tomatoes are compact, good for containers, and just produce fruit all at once. Tomatoes now come in various colors if you want something different. Look for varieties with some resistance to common tomato diseases.
Peppers are becoming more popular with many new varieties, both sweet and hot types. There is a rainbow of colors too, literally. The hot ones are great in salsa. The sweet or bell types can be stuffed, or diced and fried, or grilled. Peppers are short, so good for small spaces and containers. As with tomatoes, peppers like warm temperatures so should be planted later. Both these are generally started indoors in early spring, or bought as small plants.
There are three “root crops”, or those with underground edible parts, that are easy. Carrots are sown from seeds early, even before the last frost. Sow in intervals to have crops all season, especially in fall. There are many types, based on their shape. Some are baby-sized when mature, others you can just harvest young.
Onions are most easily purchased in a bundle of small plants, called “sets”, ready to plant out and grow. If purchasing locally, be sure to get varieties suited for your climate, and in particular day length. You might also consider the easy onion relatives of leeks, shallots, and garlic.
Potatoes are not on many top ten lists, but they are one of the easiest, and come in many novelty and tasty varieties you won’t find in stores. You buy these in spring as “seed potatoes” – tubers ready to sprout that you cut in large pieces and plant. As they grow, just hill up soil around them, or plant low in a large container and as they grow add more soil.
Probably the easiest vegetable to grow, the one given to children to start, is beans. Often called green beans, some varieties are yellow. Some produce vines, so need a trellis, others are “bush” types and remain compact. Just sow directly in the garden when the soil is warm, and be careful. A few bean plants can produce lots of beans.
Peas are another favorite on many lists. Traditionally they grow as vines, so need a trellis, and produce pods with peas inside. Now there are varieties that grow low as bushes. Those with the tough pods and peas inside that need shelling out are English peas and Southern Peas; although tasty they can be time-consuming to shell. The snap pea also has peas inside, but its pod is edible. Then there are the flat snow peas, harvested before the peas inside form, and eaten for their edible pods.
Two favorite and easy vegetables, cucumbers and squash, are produced commonly on vines. If short on space, look for varieties that are “bush” types making large mounds. Both these crops like heat, so sow seeds in the garden when the soil has warmed.
The two main types of cucumbers are the short, spiny pickling ones and the larger, smooth-skinned and dark green slicers. The latter are what you usually see in grocery stores. You can eat the pickling ones too. The bush types take less space, but produce fewer fruits.
Zucchini is listed separately on some lists, but it is actually a type of summer squash. Other types are the yellow, straight or crookneck varieties. There are other varieties of summer squash with green or white skins and scallop shapes. Summer squash usually mature in about 2 months, compared to about 3 months for the winter squash. The latter are called this as they store well in a cool space into winter. There are various winter squashes based on their shape.
Lettuce is on most easy-to-grow lists, but if you like them you should try other leafy greens as well. Some of these favorites are spinach, Swiss chard, and specialty greens. There are four main types of lettuce to choose from crisp-head, loose-head, loose-leaf, and romaine. Although those with green leaves are most common, some varieties have burgundy too. Decide if you want ones with smooth, frilled, or deeply-cut leaves. These crops like it cool, so sow early, and pick anytime–you don’t have to wait for them to mature. They’re great in containers.
With all these crops, all gardeners should pay attention to “days to maturity” on varieties if nothing else. This is the time from seeding, or in some cases planting out, until the first fruits are ripe. Figure the number of days after your last frost day, and make sure you’ll either be around and not on vacation when they ripen, or that they will ripen before first fall frost. Don’t know these frost dates? There are many online resources for finding them in your area, or check with your local garden store, Extension office, or Master Gardener program. Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont was used as a resource for this article.