Easy Garden Vegetables for Novices

Field of cabbage with farmhouse in the background
With a little help and some easy, confidence-building starter veggies, black thumbs can turn green. (Image by Jessie Keith)

So…you want to grow your own vegetables. You have all the right reasons—great taste, unparalleled freshness, and the satisfaction of eating the fruits of your labors. Still, something holds you back. Could it be fear of the dreaded “black thumb”?

Novice veggie growers can rest assured. Easy veggies turn black thumbs green. Start by choosing a few vegetable types and varieties, like the following, that are easy to love (and eat) and equally easy to grow. Some of the most popular vegetables are also perfect for beginners and can be grown successfully from seeds or nursery starter plants. With a few simple steps and a little TLC, the growing process will (practically) take care of itself.

Baby Salad Greens

Baby greens are a great starter veggie. (Image by Jessie Keith)

These tender greens are a snap to grow and a cinch to harvest. Often sold in multi-variety mixes, like Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ “Premium Greens”, the seeds are tiny and can be sown directly over well-raked garden soil or in a wide, relatively shallow container. Follow package directions for seed distribution, surface sowing the seeds in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Plant in quality planting medium, like Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE®, and gently tamp down soil after sowing. Tiny seeds need gentle watering, so use a light-sprinkling watering can or gentle mist to keep the soil uniformly moist. In as little as a few weeks, when the greens are about five inches tall, you will be able to snip young leaves with scissors. Once washed, they will be ready to use in salads or on sandwiches. For a continuous harvest, sow batches of seeds at two-week intervals.

Cherry Tomatoes

Candyland Red Tomato (Currant)
The new ‘Candyland Red’ cherry tomato. (Image by AAS Winners)

These miniature tomatoes grow equally well in-ground or in containers and generally bear lots of tasty fruit. Choose a spot that receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. If you are using a container, find one that is at least twelve inches in diameter and twelve inches deep, with bottom drainage holes. Make your gardening life as easy as possible by filling the container with a moisture-retentive, self-feeding potting mix like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with extended feed and RESiLIENCE®.

Cherry tomato starter plants are available at nurseries and garden centers in the spring and early summer. Unless you have a large family of tomato lovers, one or two plants should be enough. While you are at the garden center, pick up a wire tomato cage to support each plant. Install one young tomato plant in the center of each container or space, making sure that the top of the root ball is level with the top of the soil in the garden or container. Position tomato cages over the plants. Keep the soil evenly moist as the tomatoes grow. Yellow flowers will be succeeded by tiny green fruits. As the cherry tomatoes ripen, pick them regularly. The plants will reward you with even more fruit.

Snap Peas

Sugar Snap peas
‘Sugar Snap’ peas on the vine. (Image care of Baker Creek Seeds)

Like cherry tomatoes, these edible-podded peas beg to be eaten right off the vine. Sow seeds of varieties like ‘Sugar Snap’ by making a shallow (one to two inches deep) trench with the handle of a garden hoe. Seeds should be sown about four inches apart. Peas will also prosper in long, rectangular containers with drainage holes in the bottoms. If you are growing rows of peas in a garden bed, separate the rows by about eighteen inches. Use trellising or inexpensive chicken wire to support the vines, which will cling and clamber upward via tendrils. Seedlings will emerge within ten to fourteen days, followed eventually by white flowers. Keep the soil uniformly moist and harvest when the pods are plump and full. As with salad greens, crops of peas can be sown successively to prolong the harvest.

And a Few Tips For Novices…

No matter whether your edible crop output is large or small, all vegetable plants require regular attention. Container-grown vegetables need more food and water than those grown in-ground and may have to be watered every day in very warm, dry weather. Beware of over fertilizing, which tends to produce lush foliage growth and fewer fruits on pea and tomato plants. (Choose a food specially formulated for vegetable gardening!) If you spot aphids on pea vines, a good spray with the garden hose should dislodge them.

And, most important, harvest and eat the fruits of your labors. You have successfully refuted the myth of the “black thumb” and grown your own food. Vegetables seasoned with self-confidence always taste the best.

About Elisabeth Ginsburg

Born into a gardening family, Elisabeth Ginsburg grew her first plants as a young child. Her hands-on experiences range from container gardening on a Missouri balcony to mixed borders in the New Jersey suburbs and vacation gardening in Central New York State. She has studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere and has also written about gardens, landscape history and ecology for years in traditional and online publications including The New York Times Sunday “Cuttings” column, the Times Regional Weeklies, Horticulture, Garden Design, Flower & Garden, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. Her “Gardener’s Apprentice” weekly column appears in papers belonging to the Worrall chain of suburban northern and central New Jersey weekly newspapers and online at http://www.gardenersapprentice.com. She and her feline “garden supervisors” live in northern New Jersey.

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