Top Vegetable Picks for Your Home Garden
Plant easy to grow varieties that will save money on your grocery bill. Here are a few picks to fill your garden as well as your table.
Lettuces and Cool Weather Favorites
Cool weather crops actually prefer cool soil and cool air temperatures. Lettuce, spinach, radishes, and turnips can all be planted very early in the spring. When these “cool weather” crops are gone and hot weather hits, you can replant the area with warm weather beans or squash.
Beginning gardeners will have better luck buying plants for cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. They are cool weather crops; plant them in early spring, and then again as fall crops.
Potatoes are just plain fun to grow. Besides traditional white potatoes or red skinned varieties, look for golden potatoes with yellow flesh and “blue potatoes”. You’ll buy “seed” potatoes, which are basically potatoes that have not been treated with fungicides or chemicals to keep them from sprouting in storage. You’ll cut the seed potatoes into pieces, leaving two or three eyes on each piece, and then plant the pieces, eyes facing up. Don’t plant grocery store potatoes even if they have sprouted in the pantry, because they have been treated with growth inhibitors.
Grow onions from seeds, plants, or sets. Sow onion seeds in a small pot or flat, and when they are about 5 or 6 inches tall, transplant them into the garden. Sow them thickly in the pot; they’ll look like grass as they grow. Then remove the entire clump from the pot, and carefully separate the individual plants to transplant into the garden. If you buy onion plants, you will be skipping the step with the seeds and pot. Onion sets are small onions, the onion bulbs from plants that were grown almost to maturity, and then interrupted. Plant onion sets so they are covered with one to two inches of soil, with the pointed end facing up.
Bean plants will produce edible beans in 55 days or less from the day you plant them. The soil needs to be about 60 to 65 degrees for bean seeds to germinate. If it is colder, the seeds will usually rot. Keep up with picking the beans as they mature, and the plants will continue to bloom and produce for weeks. You can also make successive sowings of beans two or three weeks apart. When your first bean plants slow down production, the next wave of plants will have a new crop ready.
Purchased plants are the most reliable way for beginners to grow peppers. Bell peppers, or sweet peppers, are available in a variety of colors. They all start out green, and then turn red, orange, yellow, or “chocolate” brown as they ripen. Hot peppers are interesting to grow, and they are fantastic producers. Hot pepper leaves and stems are as hot as the peppers themselves, and many people need to wear gloves when working around the plants. Make sure children keep hands off the hotties.
Pepper plants should be set out in warm weather after the last frost date.
If what you want are slicing tomatoes, then plant beefsteak types. For salads (and snacking while you’re in the garden), plant some cherry or grape tomatoes. If you want to get into making tomato sauces or salsa, plant some roma types. Most tomato types are available in red and yellow, and some varieties are “black”, striped, or pink when they are ripe. If you can start only a few plants indoors from seeds, make them tomatoes. So many fun varieties are available as seed. Nurseries grow only a few of the hundreds of tomato varieties to meet customer demands.
Set tomato plants out when frost danger is past and the temperatures are warm.
Squash seeds should be one of the last things you plant in your garden. A late cool snap can stunt or kill young squash plants. They need hot weather to grow. Melons, cucumbers and pumpkins fall into this family, too.
Corn takes up lots of space in the garden, and the yield is small compared to the space. Corn requires lots of compost or fertilizer. Because it is tall, it shades other plants. Even if you have a large compost pile, old cornstalks make a huge pile of debris, slow to break down. Corn needs to be planted in a block of at least four rows for good germination. Other vegetables will give you more food in the same space.
General Garden Planting Tips
Tomatoes, peppers, and early coles: They are not difficult to grow from seed, but getting them started indoors and having everything ready at the right time can be a challenge, especially if you are a beginner or a weekend gardener.
Check out these tips for starting your own garden
Nearly all vegetables are annuals. Prepare the soil by digging it at least eight inches deep, and pulverize it. Mix in compost to make nutrients available as soon as the seeds sprout. For a small area, this is a task you can accomplish with basic hand tools like a shovel and hoe. Crumble stubborn clumps of soil with your hands. Remove stones and grass clumps from the planting bed. Plant seeds the correct depth and firm the soil. I usually let spring rain take care of watering the new garden. You may need to supplement rainfall in your area.