In any season, some crops grow especially well while others flounder. Experienced gardeners know this, so much of their space is given to easy vegetables that almost grow themselves. A spring garden without potatoes, or a summer one without snap beans would be unthinkable because potatoes and snap beans are naturally prosperous vegetables.
I have found that statements such as this can lead to fits of excitement among new veggie gardeners, who may then say, "Oh, yes, of course, flageolets, but what about purple cauliflower?" Ahem. There are easy vegetables to grow and there are hard ones. Cauliflower is a hard one. Get your hands dirty with the easy vegetables first, and the rest will follow. The best way to learn is to build on small successes.
Finding Local Standouts
I will discuss about a dozen easy to grow vegetables here, but your garden gets a vote, too! What vegetables grew particularly well for you this year, and the season before? Some species will like your site, soil and weather much better than others. For example, if you live in a cool climate you may be bursting with pride over your cabbages, with gardeners in hot summer areas in awe over head-high okra. In any garden, you will eventually discover some "difficult" vegetable that grows like a weed for you.
Climactic quirks aside, the vegetables here adapt to many climates and soils. As long as they are planted at the right times, and barring natural disasters like hurricanes and deer, these species will almost always make a crop. Your GrowVeg Garden Planner Plant List will provide you with the best planting dates and spacing information, making it difficult to fail making your vegetable garden dreams come true.
Easy Vegetables to Grow in Spring:
- Leaf lettuce or salad mixes (often called mesclun) need little more than sun, water, and careful weeding for three to four weeks.
- Snap peas justify the creation of a fun and functional trellis. The plants make great use of vertical growing space, and yield a high-value veggie even kids like to eat.
- Potatoes fascinate season after season, and harvesting them from beneath a deep mulch always feels like a treasure hunt.
Easy to Grow Vegetables for Summer:
- Snap beans, whether they grow on bushy plants or long vines, are often named as the easiest vegetable to grow. Try new varieties – they are not all alike! Special variations like flat-podded Italian beans or delicate French filet beans help prevent snap bean boredom.
- Chard is basically a gigantic spinach, and a few plants can produce a phenomenal amount of tender greens that keep their flavor in hot weather. Even gardeners who don’t eat a lot of greens like to grow chard because it’s bombshell beautiful.
- Tomato growing can be easy if you choose a small-fruited variety. Failure is possible with large-fruited heirlooms, but not with early-maturing cherry or patio tomatoes.
Easiest Vegetables to Grow in Autumn:
- Arugula that matures in cool weather holds its savory/spicy flavor a long time. Arugula planted in fall is a wonderfully robust cut-and-come-again crop.
- Mustard has legions of fans among people who like cooking greens, and those who need plenty of nutritious raw greens for their chickens. Vigorous mustard keeps growing as days get short and cool, even when cut back several times.
- Turnips can’t quite match mustard for sheer exuberance, but you get both greens and crisp roots for very little effort. As a self-confessed turnip devotee and advocate, I’m constantly trying to recruit new followers of this easy to grow vegetable.
Perhaps you have other suggestions for vegetables that qualify as "plant and stand back" crops? What do you think are the easiest vegetables to grow?
Barbara Pleasant’s most recent book is Starter Vegetable Gardens (Storey, 2010)