Planting your very first vegetable garden can be both exciting and scary. You can’t wait to eat fresh vegetables you’ve grown yourself, but you soon realize that there’s so much about gardening you just don’t know. Add in a few incidents with killing houseplants and it’s enough to make a beginner gardener throw in the trowel.
Don’t give up before you get started.
You can grow vegetables as a beginner and be successful at it too. As long as you have a location with 6 or more hours of light a day, are willing to add some compost to your soil, and water regularly, you can grow a vegetable garden this year.
I’ll show you the 10 easiest vegetables to grow, plus 5 I think you should avoid as a first-time gardener.
P.S. All the vegetables you see in this post are ones I have personally grown in my own garden.
10 EASY TO GROW VEGETABLES FOR BEGINNER GARDENERS
Anyone can grow lettuce. It tolerates shade better than other vegetables and will keep growing after you cut it, meaning you can plant once and enjoy fresh lettuce all summer long. There are plenty of varieties to choose from. I personally like Buttercrunch because I feel it holds up well in salads. If you don’t know what you like, start with a mixture of leaf lettuces and figure it out from there.
2. Swiss Chard
Spinach bolts easily and Kale tends to get eaten by pests. Enter Swiss Chard, the leafy green vegetable that keeps on giving. Use it cooked or raw, just as you would any other leafy green. The Rainbow variety is the prettiest, but the white variety is the most productive.
One caution: if you have lots of birds near your garden, cover your tender Swiss Chard plants. I didn’t get any one year because the birds kept eating the tender shoots.
I love growing beans because they give nutrients back to the soil and a small patch can yield an impressive amount of produce. Our family loves the yellow varieties the best, but I recommend growing green and purple ones as well. I prefer the bush varieties, but I am a sucker for a beautiful scarlet runner bean on a trellis.
Do you have some old potatoes you bought that are growing shoots? Perfect. You have everything you need to grow potatoes this year. (Side note: If the potatoes are from the grocery store, they may not work as well.)
Cut your potato in half or thirds, depending on size and how many eyes (the growing parts) there are. Dig a deep hole, put the cutting in, and cover. Hill your potatoes once in July and again in August so they don’t turn green.
If you have the space, plant a few extra for harvesting early. Eating baby potatoes is one of the best simple garden joys.
Zucchini is easy to start from seed, needs almost no upkeep, and will give you more produce than you’ll know what to do with. Don’t plant more than 1 or 2 plants, unless you have a family of 10, or like giving away zucchini to everyone you know.
[Update: I don’t know what happened in the last 3 years since I originally wrote this post, but I have not grown a decent zucchini in those 3 years, largely due to weather. Many other local gardeners in my area are also struggling with zucchini, so it’s not just me.]
I have a bit of a love affair with zucchini and use it in a lot of my baking. Here are three recipes I think you’ll enjoy: Lemon Poppyseed Zucchini Muffins, Zucchini Sandwich Bread, Kale and Zucchini Side Dish
Need some help processing your harvest? Here’s how to do it.
Tomatoes are actually not the easiest vegetable to plant, but I feel that no garden should be without them. Cherry tomato varieties are the easiest to grow, but you can have success with any tomato as long as you water it consistently and give it 8 or more hours of sun a day.
Whatever tomato you decide to grow, make sure you trellis it with a tomato cage, or on a string if you’re lucky enough to grow one in a greenhouse.
Need help choosing a tomato variety? Click to read about my favourites!
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If there was a prize for the most low-maintenance vegetable, carrots would probably win. Plant them, weed them, and harvest late July for baby carrots, or wait until after the first frost for larger and sweeter tasting ones.
You can, in theory, leave them in the ground all winter and dig them up as you need them. I personally don’t want to be digging up carrots in -40 weather, so I harvest them after the first hard frost and store them in the basement all winter long.
Also, even though I’ve pictured a bunch of different coloured varieties, I recommend sticking with an orange variety your first year. You’ll have a better and more reliable harvest.
Onions should be purchased in sets (small bulbs) instead of seeds. The growing season is too long in most areas, so you’ll need to plant from a set to get a decent-sized onion. Wait to harvest once the tops have fallen and dried up. You can learn everything you need to know about harvesting your onions in this post.
[Update: I have actually changed my opinion on this completely. I recently grew onions from seed, and I was shocked at how large they ended up–much larger than the sets. However, I realize that first year gardeners don’t want to take on seed starting. So once you’ve gained a little confidence in the garden, switch to starting onions from seed. You won’t be sorry!]
Pumpkins are easy to start from seed, grow really large, and kids love having a special one of their own for Halloween. While all pumpkins are edible, choose a variety that is good for pies if you plan on processing them for pumpkin puree. The skin is much thinner than those bred for jack-o-lanterns, which means it’s a lot easier to cut.
Related: Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing, Pumpkin & Succulent Autumn Centrepiece, Quick and Easy Pumpkin Spice Pancakes with Walnuts
Beets are easy to grow and you can eat both the leafy green part and the beet itself. I prefer the conical varieties, only because they are easier to harvest without ripping off the greens and getting stuck in the dirt.
In 2018, I tried growing turnips for the first time and I was so impressed with how easy they were to grow, that I had to add them to the list. The turnips still thrived when I neglected them and continued to produce all summer. This year, I will thin them out to get a few larger ones.
[Update: Turnips are still a winner in my books. Now that I’ve grown them a few more times, I like to pick out some of the turnips young (like the size shown below) and leave other ones in to get larger. This way I can enjoy my turnips for a longer time throughout the summer.]
While you can’t start this vegetable in the spring, write it in your calendar to order some garlic bulbs in the fall. Plant garlic in the fall, cover with leaves and watch the magic happen. Plus, if you order hard neck varieties, you get the benefit of eating garlic scapes before the garlic is ready.
5 VEGETABLES BEGINNER GARDENERS SHOULD AVOID
If you have your heart set on planting these vegetables this year, plant them anyway. I’ll tell you why I think they’re hard to grow as a first-time gardener, but it doesn’t mean that they’re impossible or should never be planted.
I would love to grow spinach, but I still haven’t had any luck. I find that it doesn’t germinate for me, and the few plants that make it seem to bolt before I can get to them.
I’m sure I’ll get comments from people who don’t agree, but radishes are harder to grow than you would think! Sure, they are ready in around 30 days, but they don’t do well in the heat and can get woody quickly. If you have too much nitrogen in your soil, you’ll get lots of greens, but teeny tiny radishes.
Despite trying to grow radishes year after year, I’ve still never managed to get more than 5 good ones.
It took me 4 years of trying to grow peppers to get a successful, grocery-store-sized bell pepper like this one. Unless you live in the Southern United States, wait to grow peppers until you’ve had a few gardens under your belt.
The years before, my pepper plants grew, but I got peppers that were 1/3 of the size of what they should have been. Pepper plants need the hottest spot in the yard, and in a Northern climate like mine that can be tricky to find.
The one exception to this rule in Zone 3? Hungarian wax peppers. Even when I got sick halfway through the summer and had to give up on my garden, the Hungarian wax peppers still produced. They do well in containers and are easy to start from seed.
However, if you have access to a greenhouse, it is a game-changer for growing peppers in northern climates. You’ll get much larger ones and have more peppers than you know what to do with.
2019 was the first year I grew a successful head of broccoli, but I forgot to take a picture of it!! I got greedy with the rest, wanting them to be bigger, and they ended up bolting before I could get to them. Broccoli is also very susceptible to butterflies and worms and should be grown with a netting over it. Too much fuss for your first year.
Peas are easy to grow, but I always find that I never get enough to make a meal out of, much less process them. Grow a few for fresh picking, but unless you have space for 3 or 4 giant rows, don’t expect much.
Peas are also not forgiving if you forget to harvest them. They will get hard and taste awful.
Let me know in the comments what vegetables you’ll be growing this spring!
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