A garden takes time and effort but some plants take more than others. Here’s a short list of common vegetables rating them on their “neediness”. This is my list as of January 2013 based on my experience and research. Since I’m trying so many new varieties of plants this year I’m sure that next winter I’ll have many additions and changes to make to this list!
Easy to grow:
- CARROTS–put them in the ground and keep them moist for about a week until they germinate (this is by far the most labor intensive part), thin when they are a few inches tall, wait until they are full grown then pull them up wash and enjoy! Carrots also store very well.
- PARSNIPS–You may think you don’t like parsnips or you may have never even given them a first though but I’m telling you: grow some parsnips. They take a loooooooong time to mature (you can dig them up after the first frost and through the winter (if the ground doesn’t freeze solid) or in the Spring just as things begin to warm up. They require nothing other than some mulch when temperatures dip to freezing. We ate garden fresh parsnips at both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, straight from my garden!
- PEAS–Peas are early and fast two things that I love when I’ve spent the winter without fresh veggies! Most peas need a trellis and once they start to produce you need to pick almost every day to keep the vines producing but it’s worth it. I don’t really care for frozen peas but fresh out of the shell they are basically little green balls of heaven.
- SQUASH–winter squash, summer squash whatever! Squash kinda grows itself all it needs is a lot of space (if you don’t have a lot of space look for “bush” or “semi-bush” varieties though they’ll still need about three square feet of space). Plant and stand back. When fruits are young start picking and keep picking until the end of the season (the more you pick the more fruit you’ll get).
- BUSH BEANS–I specifically say bush beans because they grow so quickly and don’t need any support or trellis. Bush beans are ready to pick in just a few weeks and need almost no care in between. Pick often for biggest harvest and replant new beans every week or so for continuous harvest (pull up old plants after about three weeks).
LETTUCE–You can buy lettuce seedlings but why would you? Lettuce grows fairly quickly from seed and if you buy a leaf variety (Pinetree sells a great lettuce mix I buy every year) you can pick just the outer leaves of the plant every few days taking just what you need. It’s my favorite way to “store” lettuce!
- SPINACH–I’ve never grown it myself (I will this year!) but I’m told it’s the easiest thing in the world to grow. Few pests bother it because it’s an early, cold-weather crop (you can also plant again late in the season for a second, Fall crop). You can pick a few leaves at a time just like lettuce and there are so many varieties, many more than the big leafed bag spinach or baby spinach that you’ll find at the grocery store.
- GARLIC–I planted some in the fall and they were already sprouting before the cold hit! I’m very excited because if you dry and replant some of what you harvest each year eventually your garlic will be custom made for the conditions of your garden. How cool is that? They do require time to dry in the fall after you harvest (and a location to dry them in which could be a problem if you don’t have much property/much on your property). Plus I love garlic.
Pretty easy to grow:
- TOMATO–If you’re just starting out gardening I recommend buying some small seedlings. Getting them settled in the ground with supports (a tomato cage or stakes) is the first step and then tomatoes need more regular care than the “easy to grow” plants above. You need to pinch off the “suckers” or little branches that grow in the crook of other branches so your plant doesn’t just make leaves (after all, you’re growing it for the tomatoes!). Tomatoes are also prone to many different diseases which can slow or stop production but even with some issues you’ll probably get a decent harvest anyway. I’ve included them in the “pretty easy to grow” section because they are more than worth any trouble they may cause you.
- KALE–I’m putting that here instead of above because kale is part of the brassicaceae family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc) that are the favorite meal of cabbage moths. I had a bad year with them last year and although my kale grew quickly it had so many caterpillars on it I pulled them out and tossed them. Perhaps this year with the use of floating row covers and a cold winter the moths won’t be a problem and I’ll move kale up to “easy”.
- BRUSSELS SPROUTS–Like kale these are part of the brassicaceae family which attracts cabbage moths. I lost all of my plants right as the sprouts were beginning to grow. It was a sad choice I had to make in order to rid my garden of the overwhelming number of moths.
PEPPERS–I debated on calling these “pretty easy” or “needy” because although my plants have grown and produced fruit I’ve never gotten very much from them. They need to be kept warm early in the season by use of hot caps or row covers and, like every other plant, you need to start picking early to encourage the plant to produce more fruit.
- POLE BEANS–I’m only including them in this category because they need support and they take longer to mature than bush beans. But really, all beans are easy!
- CUCUMBERS–These are actually part of the squash family but I find them to be a little more delicate than summer and winter squashes. They need a little more attention and nutrients and are prone to more diseases and pests. The cucumber beetles this past year were out of control and spread disease quickly through mine killing all the plants and fruit. In general, however, they’re very easy to grow. Start picking as soon as you see fruit and keep picking to get your plants to keep producing!
- CORN–It’s needy because you have to plant a lot of it in order to get pollination (the recommendation is at least 6 feet of four rows) and it attracts a lot of pests (we had all of them last year). Personally I’ve decided that in my current location corn is not worth the trouble even though fresh corn is possibly the best tasting thing in the world. When i have a bigger garden I’ll try corn again.
- BEETS–I read in another blog that beets should be among the easy things to grow. I have not found that. I actually have yet to harvest an edible beet! Perhaps it was because of the variety (golden beets which have a low germination rate), perhaps because I planted them too late (they need cooler temperatures for germination than I’d originally realized), whatever the reason I find beets hard to grow. I am attempting two varieties this year, maybe I’ll have better luck!
- CABBAGE–I’ve attempted to direct sow cabbage two years in a row and failed completely. Add to that the likely-hood they would have been eaten by cutworms or cabbage moths I’m giving up on cabbages for the time being. They seem pretty needy to me!