Like any plants, some vegetables, herbs and fruits are more fussy and difficult to grow than others. But there are many that are very easy to grow and will produce a bounty with little effort.
If you are a beginner gardener with little or no experience, it is helpful to start small and easy for your first vegetable garden. A successful crop with minimal effort and investment will help a new gardener to learn and experiment a little at a time. Seed packets and starter plant tags will give you the information you need to get started.
EASY TO GROW HERBS
Nearly all herbs are actually quite easy to grow, however some just require so little from a gardener that success in virtually guaranteed. Most herbs do require regular watering, feeding and at least 6 hours of sun. Soil fertility doesn’t seem to be quite as important for herbs as it is for fruits and vegetables. So if your first garden is not quite so well amended as you would like, herbs are a perfect start. These are some of the easiest.
Chives - chives are the easiest, hardiest most adaptable of the herbs. This perennial will thrive in just about any amount of sun or soil condition. In late spring your chives will also produce cheerful little blooms. After blooming just cut the plant back to produce new growth. But chives may spread a bit or pop up in other spots, but really is not aggressive. Snip the grass like leaves into salads, over potatoes or vegetables or in pastas.
Thyme - thyme is also perennial, drought tolerant, and easy to grow. Buy a starter plant or take a division from a fellow gardener for the best varieties. Like chives it thrives so easily that the plants can spread and produce probably more than you will ever need. Then it’s your turn to share.
Basil - basil will grow quickly and easily in full sun with well drained soil enriched with organic matter. Basil loves summer heat, but don’t let it dry out. Grow your basil from seed or starter plants and be sure to pinch off flower heads as soon as they surface. Once basil is allowed to flower the leaves become more strong and bitter.. Basil is great for pesto, on a salad, in a sandwich, in soups or in pasta. Once you grow your own basil you will find you just can’t do without it in the kitchen.
Dill - dill will grow very quickly and easily from seed. It is a great herb, providing leaves for snipping or seeds for soups, sautéed dishes and vinaigrettes. Eventually you may want to try drying dill to use all winter.
Cilantro - cilantro will grow quickly from seed. You can sow a few seeds every few weeks for continuous harvest. Cilantro is wonderful snipped into Mexican dishes, salads, shrimp or rice. Snip the leaves and the thin stems, discard the thicker tough stems.
Parsley - parsley prefers a richer fertile soil than cilantro or dill, but will still do just fine in less than perfect soil. It grows easily from seed, plant a few seeds every few weeks for continuous harvest. Parsley is a fairly mild seasoning herb that can be snipped into just about any salad or dish.
EASY TO GROW VEGETABLES
Radishes - radishes are very easy to grow from seed and are ready to eat in as little as a four weeks. They only need around 6 hours of sun, but in cooler regions even midsummer sun doesn’t usually cause a problem for radishes.
Cucumbers - grown very easily from seed, cucumbers will sprawl all over a small garden. So do plan to give them some space or give them a fence or trellis to climb. Cucumbers rather like soil that is full of organic matter and regular feeding.
Summer squash - squash, especially zucchini squash, require a good deal of rambling space but typically produce very well. Two or three plants will be needed to make sure you get good pollination.
Carrots - Carrot seeds can be planted very early in spring and again mid summer. Don’t worry about frost, root vegetables stay protected under the soil. Carrots prefer a light loamy, or even sand soil so they can grow straight down without interference. But if the soil isn’t perfect yet in your first garden, don’t worry, your carrots might be a little crooked or misshapen but they will still taste delicious.
Lettuce and leafy greens - lettuce likes cool weather, but not frost. It grows easily from seed and you can plant a few or several seeds every few weeks for continuous harvest. In the heat of summer your lettuce may not do very well and you should at least provide some shade in the heat of the day, position behind your taller vegetables for easy shade. Four to six hours of morning or late day sun combined is generally enough for most greens. Try loose leaf lettuce, romaine, spinach and arugula first, any of the head lettuces are bit more difficult to produce a good crop. Some are “cut and come again” so a new leaf crop will grow.
Green Beans - Bush beans are usually the most productive and don’t require a trellis. Bush beans, broad beans and pole beans all grow very easily from seed and adapt quite easily to just about any soil. Plant seeds according to the package directions in full sun. Water daily to keep the soil very moist until you see the sprouts. Then water an inch per week through the season. You can plant a crop in late spring and again in mid summer for two harvests. Or plant several seeds every few weeks and you will have continuous beans through the entire season. They keep and freeze well and are delicious fresh or cooked. Beans are normally a big producer, earning their space in the small garden.
EASY TO GROW VEGETABLES THAT REQUIRE A LITTLE MORE CARE
Tomatoes - everyone seems to want to grow tomatoes and I completely understand why. The grocery store tomato does not compare to the rich flavor of a fresh picked tomato. Tomatoes want as much sun as you can possibly give them, six hours bare minimum. a regular, consistent watering and feeding schedule is critical. Lots and lots of compost and composted manure in the soil is best. Tomatoes also need to be planted very deep to help produce extra roots to hold their heavy load. Bury the stem up the first set of large leaves. When things are going well you can get dozens of juicy tomatoes from a single plant with little care and attention. But there are many problems that can afflict tomatoes. Resolving the various problems is something we all work on for years. I have been growing tomatoes for 25 years or more and last year I only harvested a dozen tomatoes from 4 plants. I never did figure out what the problem was. But if you love tomatoes don’t let a bad season discourage you, we all have them and the next season will be completely different. Ask fellow gardeners and garden center staff about which varieties grow best in your region. Salad tomatoes like cherry and grape tomatoes are usually the most trouble free and are prolific producers and Early Girl is a good slicer to start with. As you improve your soil each year you can try other varieties and heirlooms that require excellent soil.
Peas - Sugar Snap Peas are so sweet and crunchy and grow very easily from seed. They like the cool weather and shade in the heat of the day. A second crop can be planted mid season for a fall harvest, or like green beans, plant several seeds every few weeks. A trellis to climb is absolutely necessary, the plants reach about 5 or 6 feet tall, but shelling peas can be found in bush varieties. Even the bush varieties do ramble a bit, so a short fence or trellis is helpful Peas do not always produce huge crops considering the space they require and are just a tad fussy about soil conditions. Fairly neutral soil full of compost is important for tasty peas, but they don’t need much for fertilizer if the soil is enriched.
Peppers - with plenty of sun (all day long is great) and enriched loose soil, both bell peppers and hot peppers grow fairly easily. They will grow fairly well from seed but where summers are short starter plants will ensure you get a good crop before frost. Most pepper plants will produce best if you start picking early even if the first couple you pick are quite small.
Broccoli - broccoli loves cool weather and seeds should be planted in early spring and early fall. Although broccoli is not especially fussy or hard to grow, you cannot expect huge heads like you buy at the grocery store. Broccoli will require a bit of space in the garden and produces small heads on each plant so you need to plant a lot. But if you love broccoli you will produce superior broccoli, fresh, tender and tasty.
EASY TO GROW FRUIT
Rhubarb - Rhubarb is not only easy to grow, it also is pretty in the garden. Each plant requires a bit of space but it is a high producer and perennial, so plant it once and you get years of produce. Rhubarb may not be everyone’s favorite, but if you love it you’re in luck.
Raspberries are very easy to grow perennial plants and produce fresh tasty fruit bountifully. They do however require some maintenance. Just a few canes will rapidly spread by underground runners, and in time you will need to dig out old canes that no longer produce well. The clump will also continually expand so you may need to keep the space consumed under control by digging new canes that pop up around the perimeter.
Strawberries are not all easy to grow and many of them require a good amount of space and regular management of runners and removal of old plants. For easy to grow and manage strawberries try the alpine or day-neutral varieties. The plants do not produce runners and fruit is produced throughout the season. They will need full sun with rich well drained soil. A regular water and feeding schedule is important. Organic fertilizer in a weak solution every couple of weeks is ideal.
Start simple by selecting just a few of your favorites. If you are able to focus on just a few plant types you will have a very successful first vegetable garden. Then start planning what to add next year!
Enjoy your garden!