If you’re a beginning gardener, consider starting with the eight crops discussed below. All are easy to grow, and this combination offers lots of possibilities for cooking. Some of these crops are best grown by setting out started seedlings, but most are easy to grow from a packet of seeds.
Plant seeds or seedlings after the last frost during a warm spell. When flowering tops appear, cut them off (toss them in salads!) to encourage new leaf production. You can sow a second planting of seeds directly in the garden in early summer. Indoors, a pot of basil repels flies. ‘Genovese’ is best for cooking; ask your nursery about specific varieties for spicy flavor, compact growth habits or frilled foliage.
This squash won’t take up as much room in your garden 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.
Easy to grow and prolific, green beans freeze well, and they’re also delicious when pickled as dilly beans. Start with seeds after all danger of frost has passed.
You can grow parsley from direct-sown seed, but the seeds are slow sprouters. Plant young seedlings in spring, handling roots gently. Parsley is actually a biennial, which means it grows one season then goes dormant through winter, blooms again, sets seed and dies. Most people like to replant parsley each spring. In autumn, try pulling up a few plants and use the roots as you would carrots. Curly parsley is a lovely edging plant, but most cooks prefer the flat-leafed version, often called Italian parsley.
Both hot peppers and bell peppers are easy to grow. Start with plants and let peppers from the same plant ripen for different lengths of time to get a range of colors and flavors.
Radishes do well even in not-so-great garden soil and are ready to harvest in only a few weeks. Plant the seeds in spring and fall.
(lettuce, spinach, arugula and corn salad) Pick your favorite, or try a mix — many companies sell mixed packets for summer and winter gardening. Plant the seeds in spring and fall, and you can pick salads almost year-round.
There’s just no substitute for a perfectly ripe homegrown tomato, and it’s hard to go wrong when you start with strong plants. If you get a big crop, consider canning or freezing.