Whether you’re a beginner or a gardener who’s short on time, consider planting these 10 easy-to-grow vegetables that offer a big payoff in the kitchen. Some of these crops are best grown from seedlings, but most are easy to grow from seed. You can learn about different varieties by studying seed catalogs, which most companies send for free. One of our favorites, with a bounty of advice and beautiful color photos, is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Visit the website or order a catalog, and start planning!
1. Salad Greens (arugula, lettuce, spinach, and corn salad). Pick your favorite, or try a mix—many seed companies sell mixed packets for summer and winter gardening. Plant seeds in spring and fall, and you can pick salads almost year-round.
2. Potatoes. Potatoes store well when kept cool. A simple and low-maintenance approach is to plant potatoes directly in straw (with just a little dirt added) rather than soil. “Seeds” are whole or cut sections of potatoes. Only plant organic potatoes or those sold in nurseries as seed potatoes. Conventional grocery-store potatoes are sprayed with an antisprouting agent.
3. Green Beans. Easy to grow and highly productive, green beans freeze well, and they’re delicious pickled as dilly beans. Start with seeds after danger of frost has passed.
4. Radishes. Radishes do well even in not-so-great soil, and they’re ready to harvest in only a few weeks. Plant seeds in spring and fall.
5. Onions. Start with small plants. If they do well, you can harvest bulb onions. If not, you can eat the greens.
6. Strawberries. Perfectly ripe strawberries are luscious, and the plants are surprisingly hardy. Buy bare-root plants from your local garden center in early spring. Put this perennial in a sunny spot and weed often.
7. Peppers. Hot and bell peppers are both easy to grow. Start with seedlings and let peppers ripen for different lengths of time to get a range of colors and flavors—most peppers turn from green to red or purple over time, becoming sweeter along the way.
8. Bush Zucchini. This squash won’t take up as much garden space as many other types, and it’s very prolific. Start from seeds or transplants. You won’t need more than a few plants for a bumper crop.
9. Tomatoes. There’s just no substitute for a perfectly ripe homegrown tomato, and it’s hard to go wrong when you start with strong plants (look for thick stems and healthy leaves). If you get a big crop, consider canning or freezing.
10. Basil. Many herbs are easy to grow, but basil is among the easiest. It complements tomatoes in both the garden and the kitchen and grows well from seeds or transplants.
Tips for Small Space Gardening
1. Select ‘compact,’ ‘dwarf’ and ‘mini’ varieties.
2. Plant seeds closely and harvest vegetables small, following with successional sowings.
3. Use any sunny plot of land you have, plus containers. Replace soil in pots yearly to avoid disease.
4. Avoid crops that mature slowly (such as bulb onions and winter brassicas) and those that take up a lot of space (such as potatoes and most types of zucchini).
5. Grow carrots, turnips and beets, which produce small, tender roots quickly, and fast-growing green, leafy vegetables such as spinach.
6. Grow tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in pots, cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets, and beans and cucumbers vertically on trellises.