If you’re thinking of starting a garden or incorporating edible plants into your landscape, start off with some easy-to-grow, tried and true fruits and vegetables to help guarantee a successful harvest. Here’s a list of 11 fruits and vegetables that are not only fairly easy to grow, but they are also well-liked by most people and have lots of culinary uses.
1. Basil – A terrific plant to grow and experiment within the kitchen. This herb is available in a wide array of varieties with different colors, textures, and tastes, including lemon basil, cinnamon basil, sweet basil, purple ruffles basil, and many, many more. The aromatic leaves are used in salads and can also be used fresh or dried to add flavor in stews, vegetables, poultry, meat, vinegar, pesto, and pasta dishes.
Basil is an annual plant that can be grown in a variety of garden environments. Grow them in the garden or, if you don’t have a lot of space, they make great potted plants placed on kitchen windowsills for easy picking when cooking.
2. Beans – Like basil, there are a wide variety of beans to choose from to grow in the home garden. For beginners, however, I recommend a bush bean, because pole beans grow on a vine and require a trellis, or something they can climb. This may not be something you’re ready to invest time or money into in if you’re just starting out. Beans are easy to start from seed and if you want to jump-start them, just soak them in some water for a couple of days before planting them in the garden. This will soften the outer shell of the bean, which speeds germination. Blue Lake is a common bush type green bean while Kentucky Blue is a great pole bean. Both are delicious plucked right from the garden.
3. Carrots – Make a very interesting addition to landscape beds with their airy, fern-like foliage. Carrots are root crops and are considered a cool-weather vegetable. They will survive light frosts making them fun for early spring and late fall. Beyond the orange carrots we see in the store, you can also grow purple carrots, white carrots, yellow carrots. Seed catalogs offer a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors including purple, white, red and yellow.
4. Lettuce – Like carrots, lettuce is a cool weather vegetable, although new more heat tolerant varieties are being developed all the time. I’ve found leaf lettuces to be the easiest to start within the garden or landscape. And the many colors, leaf shapes and textures make leaf lettuce a great border addition to the edible landscape. One of the things I like best about leaf lettuce is the cut, and come again characteristic. Cut the leaves you need and more will grow until it just gets too warm and the plant bolts (flowers and goes to seed).
5. Peas – Peas are a garden snack food in my family. Very few actually make it into the house and to the table. Like pole beans, they need a trellis or something to climb, but they are a bit lighter and don’t seem to need the same sturdiness that the bean plants do. I’ve very successfully used tomato cages or a bit of chicken wire for the vines to climb. When planted against a fence, these make very pretty additions to the landscape with their delicate flowers and pretty leaf and vine structure. You can get a head start with peas as well by soaking them in water for a couple of days before planting to soften the outer layer of the seed. Peas are a cooler weather vegetable, but you can extend their growing period by planting in part shade where the sun won’t beat down on the plants for extended periods of time.
6. Radishes – Radishes are often recommended as a vegetable to start with for children’s gardens because they are such a fast, easy growing root plant. Just follow the instructions on the seed packet and you’ll have radishes for your salad in less than 1 month! For the best flavor, grow these in cooler weather (50-70 degrees is ideal).
7. Cucumber – A warm-weather, full-sun vining plant, cucumbers are easy to start from seed. Plant on hills in full sun. The heirloom, lemon cucumber, is as easy to grow as the more common cucumbers you see in grocery stores. If you have limited space, make sure you have a trellis that the vine can climb. Or, try one of the compact varieties and grow in a container.
8. Strawberries – This perennial fruit is a terrific addition to an edible landscape. They make great border plants or ground cover with interesting foliage, pretty white flowers, which are followed by delicious red fruit. Plant one type or all three of the following types to maximize the growing season. June-bearing which produce one crop over a 2-3 week period in the spring; Everbearing berries which produce two-three crops intermittently throughout Spring, Summer, and Fall. Finally, day-neutral strawberries produce berries throughout the growing season, however, the berries tend to be smaller than June-bearing types. Because Everbearing and day-neutral types produce fewer runners than June bearing strawberries, they are great for growing in containers or in gardens with limited space. Strawberries are a full-sun fruit and prefer a sandier soil.
9. Sunflowers – Grow sunflowers for the seeds to roast for snacks or serve to the birds over the course of winter. This plant is included in this list because their sunny faces make a wonderful addition to the garden landscape and because they really are easy to grow and provide a tasty seed. In addition, sunflowers attract bees which are a vital part of a healthy garden. Start sunflowers from seed in full sun, water regularly, and enjoy the view.
10. Tomatoes – While tomatoes have a reputation for being a bit more difficult to grow, if you keep a few things in mind, you’ll find that they’re actually a very rewarding plant that doesn’t take all that much extra effort. Tomatoes like it warm, so be sure to wait until after the last frost in your area to set them out and plant them in a sunny location that is also warm. Try them against the house where the heat radiates around the plant. Enrich the soil you plant tomatoes in with compost to ensure the plant gets the nutrients it needs from the soil. Finally, water regularly and deeply. If you see any signs of disease, take action immediately. Your best bet is to contact your local extension or reputable nursery for advice. Take photos and/or samples of the diseased part of the plant so the local experts can provide the best advice possible.
11. Zucchini/Summer Squash – A super easy and prolific vining plant to grow from seed. Squash loves full sun and needs a trellis to climb in smaller garden spaces or containers. The best bit of advice I can offer on this crop is to be sure to pick the zucchini/summer squash as soon as it’s ready-four-six inches is when it’s most tender. Zucchini is such an easy vegetable to grow, and so prolific that you’ll only want one, or maybe two plants in your garden. And, you’ll want to have a network of zucchini lovers to share your bounty!
Lisa Greene has been gardening for more than 25 years and has focused on edible garden landscapes for the last 12. Her website, http://davidbunney.com/ provides information and resources to people who want to use more of their available growing space for beautiful trees, shrubs and plants that also provide a delicious, nutritious and economical food supply to the home gardener.