The Beginner’s Guide to Gardening and What You should Plant When Starting Your Garden for Easy Success and Wins
Table of Contents
When I was little and we were still living in an apartment, my dad started growing tomatoes in big ceramic pots that lined our balcony. From what I can remember, there must have been at least 4 to 6 containers with tomato plants. Those plants produced beautiful tomatoes for us to enjoy on summer days, whether in a salad; a tomato and onion dish that my mom marinated in olive oil, herbs, and balsamic vinegar (one of my favorites when I was younger); and on hamburgers… just to name a few dishes we used.
Those little tomato plants were a starting point and would lead us to expand our garden once we moved to a house with some land, as well as what we grew!
Here’s a list I’ve compiled that are the top 10 easiest vegetables to grow and get you started. One other tip is to also plant what you would normally eat.
In my opinion, tomato plants are extremely forgiving plants. If they are happy, they will produce lots of fruit, and sometimes more than you may be able to eat at times! Tomatoes are definitely one of my favorite crops to grow. They can handle really hot days, and even survive deer attacks. I know because I’ve seen it happen. One year our tomato plants were devastated by a deer and I did not know if they would survive. I never experienced that before. Each of the plants were pruned to clear off any dead limbs and then I left them to see what they would do. Luckily, they started growing although we had a later season while they played catch up.
Tomato Growing Tips
- Tomato plants love relatively acidic soil ranging between as low as 5.5 pH to 6.8 pH.
- They love sunny spots that provide 6 to 8 hours of sunlight.
- Stake, trellis, or cage your plants. The way we grow tomato plants goes against how they would actually grow, which is along the ground.
- Each of the bumps on the stem have the potential to grow roots.
- Liming the soil will also help bring out its flavor.
- Water regularly.
Tomato plants have two different varieties: bush plant or vine. The vines are categorized as either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate plants grow to a certain height and then will stop growing. The majority of the fruit on a determinate tomato variety will mature in one or two months. Indeterminate tomato varieties can grow very tall – up to 10 to 15 feet! Indeterminate varieties will need more support and will continue to grow in height throughout the growing season.
Cucumbers are a really easy plant to grow, especially when you receive some rain. One day the cucumber is small and then after a rain, you can come out to the vine to find a monster under a leaf. Afterall, they are made up of over 90% water!
Cucumber Growing Tips
- For vining cucumber plants, consider trellising and vertical gardening to save space.
- Pro-tip: last year I planted cucumbers alongside sunflowers. The cucumbers were then able to use the sunflowers to climb! I’ve also used the fence to my garden as a trellis so there’s nothing extra I have to add to the garden. Try using what you already have, if you can.
- Fertilize the soil with high nitrogen and potassium.
- If there is no fruit, consider taking a closer look at the flowers. Cucumbers have both male and female flowers. This can either point out the plant is not yet mature enough to produce fruit just yet or you do not have pollinators pollinating your plants. I like to evaluate whether pollinators are easily able to get to the flowers to do their job.
- As a side note, you may also not have enough pollinators visiting your garden. Be sure to plant pollinator attracting plants to entice them to come!
- Cucumbers need quite a bit of water and need it consistently. A lack of water can cause fruit to be bitter.
- Pick the fruit frequently to avoid large cucumbers. Large cucumbers don’t taste very good.
Just like tomatoes that are two different varieties of cucumbers: vining and bush. They are grown for slicing or pickling.
Zucchini are another crop that you can have an overabundance of. It’s one of a variety of summer squash and loves hot weather. It does not do well in cold weather, and the squash cannot be saved for long periods of time in its natural state like other squash varieties. Happy plants can produce more than you can eat! Like tomatoes and cucumbers, you may want to consider either giving some away or freezing them.
Zucchini Growing Tips
- Like cucumbers, zucchini have male and female flowers. If there is no fruit, consider removing leaves so the pollinators can reach the flowers. A zucchini plant can have up to 50% of its leaves removed and not harm the plant.
- Most squash rely on cross pollination to produce fruit.
- To save room in your garden, try staking the plants.
- Try waiting to plant your zucchini. Planting later in the season can help avoid pests like vine borers.
- Like cucumbers, avoid letting the fruit become large. Zucchini can become mealy on the inside and have LOTS of seeds. If you happen to have a large zucchini, use it for baking.
Kale is such a versatile vegetable and can be used in so many ways. You can throw it in smoothies, make kale chips, put it in soup, or even just have it in your salad. There are so many options. It’s super nutritious and can handle a wide variety of temperatures. A bonus is, if you can grow kale well, you can also grow mustard greens and collards well since they’re closely related. It’s part of the brassica family, like cabbage, broccoli, and brussel sprouts.
Kale Growing Tips
- Kale tastes sweeter after there have been a couple of frosts.
- It can be started indoors or directly sown into your garden.
- Plant kale in spring, summer, and fall.
- It grows well in direct sun, but can also tolerate partial shade. It doesn’t like very hot weather.
- It is happiest when the pH is between 6.5 to 6.8, but can tolerate soils that are alkaline – as high as 7.5 pH.
Green beans grow as either a bush or pole. Pole beans can grow up to at least 7 feet tall and will need support. They require at least 8 hours of sun each day and are considered a low maintenance plant. Green beans require consistent watering, but be sure to have well draining soil. The plants should be watered early in the morning so they have a chance to dry. If conditions are too wet, it can cause fungal disease).
Green Growing Tips
- A growing rule for green beans is that the more you pick from the plant, the more you’ll be able to harvest.
- Green beans are quick to sprout and fast growers.
- They grow best in soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0.
- Start beans either indoors or direct sow.
- Stay on top of watering the plants since they have shallow roots.
Peas are a wonderful addition to the garden. Kiwi and I enjoy them straight off of the vine as a yummy snack! They don’t stay fresh for too long after they’ve been picked. They do not taste good if they are left on the vine for too long and have a bitter taste to them. Peas enjoy either full or partial sun and can grow in either acidic or neutral soil.
Peas Growing Tips
- To speed up germination, soak seeds in water overnight.
- Peas need phosphorus and potassium, but high nitrogen will encourage growth of foliage instead of flowers and pods.
- Peas come in two different varieties: vining and bush. Set up a trellis or support for vining and tall varieties.
- Peas do not like their roots disturbed, so if you must transplant them, start them in a biodegradable container for easy transfer.
- Peas mature quickly and can be harvested in 60 to 70 days.
Just as with anything grown in a home garden, nothing tastes better than homegrown lettuce.
Lettuce Growing Tips
- Lettuce can grow in either full or partial sun.
- It grows better in cooler weather and does not grow well when it is very hot since it is a cool weather crop. Seedlings can tolerate light frosts. My crops were planted in partial shade last year and grew halfway through the summer. If the weather is too hot, plants will bolt (flower) and become bitter in taste.
- To avoid bolting, cover crops with a shade cloth.
- Lettuce prefers soil with high organic material with plenty of compost and steady supply of nitrogen.
- Leaves taste better when they are young and still tender. Mature plants taste bitter and woody.
- Harvest in the morning.
- When harvest, remove the outer leaves to allow the center leaves to continue to grow.
Yellow Summer Squash
Yellow squash is similar to zucchini. For both yellow squash and zucchini, flowers are edible. Have you ever eaten fried squash flowers? They are fast growing plants and under the correct growing conditions will produce in abundance. Fruit will usually be ready for harvest in as little as 45 to 55 days. They love hot temperatures and do not tolerate cold weather.
Yellow Summer Squash Growing Tips
- Like zucchini and cucumber, yellow squash have male and female flowers.
- Harvest the first flowers on the plant. This will not harm production since early flowers are males.
- They are best grown when they are directly sown in the soil, but they can be started indoors.
- Harvesting regularly will allow the plants to produce until the first frost.
- They need full, bright sun for 6 to 8 hours to produce fruit.
Arugula also goes by the name ‘rocket’ or ‘roquette’. It is a fast growing cool weather crop and can tolerate light frosts. The plant originates from the Mediterranean and is a member of the mustard family. It’s a relative to cabbage, broccoli, and kale.
Arugula Growing Tips
- Arugula can grow in either partial or full sun and it can grow from spring until fall.
- Seeds can germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Arugula can tolerate light frost, but consider protecting it with row covers in colder weather. It does not tolerate very cold weather, heavy frost, or snow.
- Plant it in nutrient rich soil, but it is not picky about its growing conditions.
- It cannot tolerate very hot temperatures and will bolt (flower). To prevent bolting, provide it with a shade cover.
Herbs are probably the easiest of all vegetables as they can grow pretty much anywhere. Grow them indoors in a container on a windowsill, in the ground of your garden, in containers/pots outdoors. They are also very versatile and have a wide variety of uses from medicinal to seasoning dishes, and some can even be used as a salad. You can either grow them from a seedling or from seed. I personally find that growing from seed is super easy and cheap as well.
Herb Growing Tips
- Herbs thrive best in a sheltered spot in full sun.
- Be aware that some herbs propagate very easily and can quickly spread. Examples of such herbs are dill and mint. It is best to consider planting herbs like mint in a pot to keep them under control.
- Save seeds from your annual herbs, but perennial herbs should grow again the next year.
- Consider growing as many herbs as you possibly can, if you can. At least for me, I use lots of different herbs in my cooking and having them on hand through the year has been a total game changer. Seeds are cheap in comparison to buying a few springs at the store. At least in my area, herbs can range anywhere from $2 to $4. It is sometimes a little difficult to find herbs that are in good condition as well when buying them from the store. By growing my own, I can also dry any surplus so I can have them outside of the growing season.
Planting these easy vegetables can be an easy win in the garden if you’re just starting out. Start with the easiest plants and then branch out into other vegetables and even fruit!