10 Easy Vegetable Gardening Crops
By Steven Biggs
Gardener, Garden Writer, Garden Coach, Horticulturist
Vegetable gardening takes time. It’s time well spent, but it’s still your valuable time.
Here are 10 crops that will help you save time: They’re easy to grow, easy to maintain, and have few pests.
- Runner Beans
- Swiss Chard
Let’s simplify watering for these crops: If the soil seems dry, water it. If you’re not sure whether it’s dry, lift some with a trowel to see. Touch it with your hands. If you’re still not sure, water it. Now touch the soil again so you know the feel when it’s wet.
OK, let’s get started with our easy-to-grow vegetable gardening crops.
How would you like a crop that comes up without you having to seed it? And something that is so prolific you need to thin it. Something that comes up in the spring, then again in late summer? It’s a herb, you use the leaves, but the seeds, too, can be dried for use in the winter.
- Planting: Once you have grown it, there’s no need to worry about planting it ever again. Simply let a couple of plants develop seed heads. Seeds fall to the ground. You spread a few around. If you haven’t grown it before, buy some seeds and sprinkle them in the garden. Don’t bother spacing the seeds or covering them with soil. Just spread them by hand, as you would spread grass seed.
- Maintenance: No maintenance, apart from pulling out unwanted plants.
- Harvest: Pick the leaves as needed. When the plants start to flower, I pull up a few to hang dry—giving me a winter supply of dry dill weed. You can also freeze dill: I chop the leaves, then freeze them, taking out a spoonful of chopped dill whenever needed.
You won’t need to buy garlic again. It’s very easy to grow. It stores well. And when you harvest it in August, you have space in the garden for other crops. I recommend it for every garden.
- Planting: I grow a type of garlic called hard neck garlic, which I plant in the fall. You simply break it into cloves, which you insert, pointed end upwards, into the soil. Plant the cloves about 2 inches deep and 3-4 inches apart. Choose a location with lots of sunlight.
- Maintenance: None, that’s what I love.
- Harvest: When the tops die, pull up the bulbs and let them cure for a few days in a warm, well-ventilated spot.
- Tip: Garlic plants form twisted flowering stalks call scapes. Remove these so that energy is used to grow a bigger bulb. I use scapes as a decorative garnish when serving meals, or chopped and added to sauces for garlic flavouring, or mixed with pine nuts and olive oil to make a garlic-scape pesto.
A farmer I know is amazed at what city people pay for “weeds”, the fancy, expensive mesculin mixes found at the store. Grow you own multicoloured array of lettuce. It’s extremely easy to grow—and if you let a couple plants go to seed, it will come up on its own the following year. Yellow finches love lettuce seed, so I often see them swaying on the tall, spindly lettuce plants that I have let go to seed.
- Planting: It’s the same seeding method I use for dill and radishes: I simply scatter the seed. Then I lightly rake it or scatter some soil over it. The important thing to remember with lettuce is that you should make successive plantings, as it becomes bitter as it nears the flowering (bolting) stage. I save space by sowing lettuce amongst crops such as asparagus and tomatoes. Lettuce does well in the sun, but can also grow in locations that have partial shade.
- Maintenance: I thin out plants that are close together to allow the remaining plants to develop into a nice head—eating what I’ve thinned out.
- Harvest: You can wait till you have a perfect head of lettuce. But if you’re like me, you will be wanting salad long before that. Harvest a couple of the larger leaves at the base of the plant, leaving the plant to continue growing.
- Tip: If you have a prizewinning head of lettuce, you probably have a couple earwigs hiding in it. They love to be hidden, and what better place to hide than a dense head of lettuce. Simply fill a pail with water then immerse the lettuce in the water (do this outside). Leave it for a few minutes, encouraging most of the earwigs to leave.
I’m talking about onion sets, the small bulblets that you can buy, ready to insert into the soil. You can grow onions from seed too—but it’s more work, and we’re talking about easy crops here.
- Planting: Plant the onion sets as soon as the soil can be worked. The cold won’t hurt them—and they need ample time to attain a good bulb size. I plant onion sets 2-3 inches apart, often using them to fill the space at the front edge of the garden. Choose a location with full sun.
- Maintenance: I thin some of the onions for use as green onions, or scallions. This ongoing thinning gives more space to the remaining bulbs.
- Harvest: When the tops flop over and become brown, you can harvest. I put the onions, tops and all, in a dry, well-ventilated spot for a couple weeks. This is called curing. Then I braid them and hang the braids in the cold cellar.
- Tip: A couple years back a bulb rot took about 20% of my onions—but it hasn’t returned. With any disease, be sure to check regularly for infected plants, then remove them immediately so that there is less inoculum around to infect your other plants.
Here’s a multi-purpose crop. First, I use it as a marker crop. When I sow other crops like beets and carrots, I scatter radish seeds over the same area. The radish seeds germinate very quickly, so I can tell where I have seeded. Second, the radishes are ready to harvest well before the other crops, and pulling out the radishes loosens the soil around the other crops. It’s a good use of limited space. Marker crop, soil loosener, and edible crop—very useful!
- Planting: As soon as you can work the soil you can sow radishes. I start first thing in the spring. Most crops I plant are accompanies by some radish seeds.
- Maintenance: Here’s the great part. Aside from harvesting and thinning, there is no maintenance.
- Harvest: As soon as the radish reaches the desired size, pull it and eat it.
- Tip: The main pest my radishes suffer from is the flea beetle, a tiny beetle that eats small holes into the leaves. The leaves may become unsightly, but I simply let the plants grow through it.
Not only is this crop easy to grow, it works well in rotation with garlic. Once I have harvested my garlic, I sow rapini, getting a second crop from the same patch of garden. It’s similar to broccoli, but it doesn’t form a large head like broccoli. The taste is different from broccoli, slightly bitter.
- Planting: I scatter the seeds on the soil then rake them in.
- Maintenance: Thin out plants that are too closely spaced.
- Harvest: As the plants produce flower buds you can harvest them. Pull out the plants by the roots if the plot needs thinning—or cut off the plants near the base if you want them to regrow.
7. Runner Beans
They’re easy to grow, have attractive red flowers, and produce a lot of beans. I find runner beans a good way to use every last bit of space, growing them in unused corners of the garden or along the fence.
- Planting: Choose a location with full sun. Insert seeds about two inches deep. I plant the seeds after erecting support poles—this way I don’t accidentally skewer any unseen, emerging plants. Plant runner beans when the risk of frost has passed. I like to put in a few cheater plants, a couple weeks before the last frost date. If they are nipped by frost, I simply replant. And if they aren’t, I’ve moved up my bean harvest by a couple weeks.
- Maintenance: The odd wayward stem may need redirecting.
- Harvest: Pick the beans as they become ready. Let them become too large and they become tough and fibrous. But remember to let a couple beans mature fully so that you have seeds for next year.
- Tip: I have asparagus plants, which turn into large ferns in the summer. Letting runner beans trail amongst the asparagus ferns is a great use of this space.
Tangy sorrel leaves are one of the first spring greens in my garden. I love adding them to salads and sandwiches, cooking them into a tangy meat sauce, or making them into a creamy soup.
- Planting: Garden sorrel is a perennial, so you don’t need to replant it every year. All you do is divide and replant it every four or five years. That’s all.
- Maintenance: You can remove older leaves and flower shoots to promote new growth. Apart from occasionally dividing, there is no maintenance. None.
- Harvest: Pick the leaves as needed.
9. Swiss Chard
It doesn’t get bitter like lettuce. And it just keeps growing. It can be frozen like spinach. It out competes weeds once established. You can eat young leaves fresh in salads—or cook older leaves like spinach.
- Planting: Plant as soon as the soil can be worked, covering lightly with soil. Plants should be 3-4 inches apart.
- Maintenance: Every so often, cut back the whole plant to just above soil level to encourage the growth of tender, young leaves.
- Harvest: Pick leaves as needed. A friend who took up market gardening was amazed at the amount of money to be made from one package of Swiss chard seeds. Keep cutting it back and you’ll be rewarded with endless greens all summer long.
Warning. Only plant one of these, or you will be scouring cookbooks to figure out what to do with all the zucchini from your garden.
- Planting: They don’t like the cold, so wait till after the last frost. You can plant the seeds directly in the garden, although I start them 2-3 weeks ahead in peat pots, which I then transplant.
- Maintenance: Zucchini plants require a lot of moisture.
- Harvest: Pick them when they are small and tender, no more than six inches long. You can let them get much larger, but they become tough, requiring a long cooking time to make them edible.
- Tip: You can eat the blossoms: Fry them in butter, or batter them and deep-fry them.
Recipes For Your Homegrown Vegetables
Wilted Asparagus and Rapini Salad
Garlic Scape Pesto
French Onion Soup
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Practical, no-nonsense advice for the edible garden.
Gardener, Garden Writer,
Garden Coach, Horticulturist
with timely tips on growing vegetables, fruit, and herbs.
- What’s in season
- What to do next
- Cooking garden produce
- Common questions
- Kid-friendly gardening
- Upcoming gardening events
ZESTFUL, FUN, INFORMATION-PACKED, OPINIONATED—even slightly irreverent—this graphic-novel-meets-gardening-book empowers readers to make their own decisions in the vegetable garden because the authors, two garden coaches, talk frankly about issues…and don’t always agree.
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