In our Rookie Guide to Growing Your Groceries, we gave you the basics on planning, planting, tending and harvesting a food garden. We didn’t offer specifics about choosing your crop list because that’s, well, personal. The best plants to grow are the ones you and your kids like to eat the most. There’s no use raising a bumper crop of eggplant just for show.
Whether your crops fail or succeed depends to some extent on the climate you live in and your particular soil conditions. But the following 10 varieties generally do well, and are fairly low-maintenance, across a range of climate zones. (You won’t find fruit in the list below because it tends to have specific needs and takes up more space than these veggies.)
We’re not suggesting that you start with just the easy crops it’s always worthwhile to take on a challenge. The best education in gardening is trial and error. Most rookie gardeners find that some of their crops thrive while others fail, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble with any of the following.
Without further delay, here are tending and harvesting tips for the 10 veggies that are the easiest to grow.
Lettuce and Arugula 1 of 10
Don't wait too long to harvest these greens grow fast. If you start from seed, they should be ready just 30-45 days after planting. Young arugula and lettuce are tender and sweet, but they get tougher and ultimately bitter as they grow.
Beans 2 of 10
(Green, Purple, Yellow, Haricot Vert, Edamame) Start harvesting when young and tender. Harvest frequently to ensure that the plant keeps producing more. With Edamame, especially, it's very easy to miss the harvesting window; as soon as pods are slightly plump, open them up and taste.
Beets 3 of 10
After the greens have come up from the soil and are about one inch tall, thin the plants (pulling out the extra baby plants) so they're a fist's length apart, then mound soil around each plant. (Be sure to eat the thinnings they're delicious!). Harvest roughly sixty days after planting pull and see if the bulb is roughly 1.5" in diameter. If you want bigger beets, wait.
Broccoli 4 of 10
As with lettuce, don't wait too long to harvest — florets will open and get yellowish, and ultimately flower. Harvest time depends on variety, usually 55-75 days from planting. Judge readiness by the texture of the head, not the size (it's ready when the florets looks tight and green). After you've harvested the main head, look for side shoots to harvest throughout the season.
Carrots 5 of 10
Thin your young carrots aggressively: when the tops are about two inches high, pull out the weakest looking plants so that you have roughly two inches between those left in the ground. Carrots are sweetest when planted in the summer for fall or early winter harvest.
Cucumbers 6 of 10
These plants are very prolific. If you plant 6-8 seeds, leave only the healthiest, largest 1-3 seedlings in the ground or you will be overwhelmed by too much fruit. The fruit is well camouflaged look closely as it could be hiding from you! May be harvested young or wait for bigger cukes.
Greens 7 of 10
(Swiss Chard, Kale, Collard Greens) Thin your plants so they're about 8 to 12 inches apart you'll be rewarded with more growth. Eat the thinnings along the way. Harvest the leaves from the bottom up, starting with the outside of the plant, and keep some leaves in place so that the plants will continue to regenerate.
Peas 8 of 10
You can grow three types of peas: sugar snap (eat the whole puffy pod), English or garden type (eat only the peas inside the pod), and snow or Asian, (flat, edible pod). Pods are most succulent when they're young and tender. Once ripe, harvest frequently. The taste is best if you eat immediately after harvesting.
Potatoes 9 of 10
When the potato plant is 6 to 8 inches above ground, mound soil or compost in a hill to cover 2/3 of the plant. When you bury the stem it grows more potatoes. The best time to harvest the first new spuds is right after the flowers bloom. Once the foliage starts to yellow and die back, the tubers are fully-grown. If the weather is not too warm or wet, they will keep in the ground for at least several weeks. Have fun growing blue, red, or gold potatoes and all types of fingerlings.
Tomatoes 10 of 10
These are large/tall vining plants that benefit from growing in a cage that offers them support. Gently train the stems to grow vertically within the cage. Spray the leaves of the tomato plants with a fish emulsion and seaweed liquid fertilizer every other week. If squirrels and chipmunks are munching on your tomatoes, harvest on the early side of ripe and place on a sunny windowsill to finish.