The Easiest Vegetables to Grow

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When it comes to growing vegetables for the dinner table, it seems to be a no-brainer that you'd want the easiest vegetables to grow, but for some of us, knowing the easiest varieties is an absolute necessity. Nurturing plants that bear fruit for eating is fraught with potential problems, from unfavorable weather to messing up the watering schedule to losses from squirrels and other hungry critters. It just makes sense, especially for beginner gardeners, to choose plants that minimize the struggle so you can actually reap — and eat — what you sow. Fortunately, there are plenty of good options for your vegetable garden that you can grow right from seed.

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1. Carrots

Carrots are easy on many levels. They don't need careful watering or much feeding (fertilizer), they like full sun but are OK with partial shade, they grow in the ground so they're protected from most pests and they are generally resistant to disease. They can even survive a frost and actually like a little cold weather, so you don't have to rush out and cover them if the temperature dips or an early snow is on the way. Carrots are also fun to harvest, digging them up one by one like a treasure hunt. All of these characteristics make carrots a great first vegetable for beginners and kids to try. For best results, be sure to follow three rules: plant seeds in loose, sandy or loamy soil; space the seeds and rows carefully; and don't be afraid to thin the sprouts so they aren't overcrowded.

  • USDA zones: 4-10
  • Full sun, partial shade
  • Loose, loamy, well-draining soil
  • Water deeply 1 inch per week
  • Days to harvest: 70 to 80

2. Zucchini and Squash

Zucchini and yellow squash are common types of "summer squash" and are harvested throughout the summer. In the peak of the growing season, you can almost watch them get bigger. In fact, it's best to check your crop daily and pick the fruits when they're still young and tender. If they get away from you, they can easily grow to 2 feet long and won't taste very good. Plant summer squash seeds in moist but well-drained soil that is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit and in full sun. Choose a bush variety if space is limited, as squash leaves get huge and can quickly take over small spaces.

  • USDA zones: 3-10
  • Full sun
  • Moist, rich soil
  • Frequent and thorough watering
  • Days to harvest: 60
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3. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are good veggies for those seeking instant gratification or at least relatively quick results since the plants grow quickly, and the fruit can be ready in as little as six weeks. Vining varieties grow up a trellis or fence and keep the fruit off the ground. Bush varieties stay on the ground, spreading quickly, and need a little less maintenance. Cucumbers like warm soil and shouldn't be planted too early. They also need consistent watering to stay plump and healthy. If you miss a watering or two or forget to mulch, the fruits might let you know by puckering or changing shape.

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  • USDA zones: 4-11
  • Full sun
  • Loamy soil
  • Deep watering 1 inch per week
  • Days to harvest: 50-70

4. Leafy Greens

If anything in a garden grows "like a weed," it's lettuce and its cousins spinach, arugula and chard. All are prolific producers and won't take over a small garden like zucchini or cucumber. In fact, many varieties of lettuce and spinach like protection from heat if not full shade, so they're great for growing in the shadows of taller plants, making them space efficient. Perhaps the best trait of leaf lettuce, spinach, chard and arugula is that you can harvest a little or a lot. Pick a few leaves from various plants for a quick salad with your cherry tomatoes (leaving the rest in the ground where they'll stay as fresh as possible) or trim an entire plant about 1 inch from the ground and it will grow back.

  • USDA zones: 4-9
  • Full sun, partial shade
  • Loose, cool, well-draining soil
  • Light watering
  • Days to harvest: 30-70

5. Kale and Collards

Kale looks like crazy, frilly lettuce but is actually part of the cabbage family (if you look closely, you can see a resemblance to cabbage leaves). The same is true for its cousin collards. They like the cool sides of the seasons — early spring and late summer — so you can sow seeds earlier in spring than many other vegetables as well as later in summer for a fall harvest. Many varieties are frost tolerant and in some climates can even grow through winter. The plants stop producing when the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Like lettuce, kale and collard leaves can be harvested without killing the plant or stopping its production. Regular harvesting helps ensure that you enjoy the leaves at their peak (and not overgrown). Most types of kale get a bit sweeter after a light frost or snow.

  • USDA zones: 2-9
  • Full sun, partial shade
  • Rich, cool soil
  • Water evenly and lightly. Mulch is recommended.
  • Days to harvest: 60

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6. Radishes

Like kale, radishes are another good option for early spring and late-summer planting. They don't do well in the heat of midsummer and should be harvested before it gets too hot. At the end of summer, you can plant radishes as late as one month before the first frost, and you'll still get a fall harvest. Radishes are fun to plant with carrots in the ground or in raised beds; you can even mix the seeds together. When the radishes get pulled up, they'll leave space and nicely loosened soil in which the carrots can thrive. Add some chives to the mix to attract bees, repel pests and make your salad that much tastier.

  • USDA zones 2-10
  • Full sun, partial shade
  • Rich, well-draining soil
  • Water deeply, 1 inch of water per week
  • Days to harvest: 21

7. Peas and Beans

Peas are popular plants for kids to grow because they're fun and easy to pick, and they never taste better than when they are eaten right out of your hands in the garden. If you just can't wait to start gardening in the spring, plant peas. They can go in the ground up to six weeks before the last frost in spring (as long as the soil is 45 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer). In plant hardiness zone 5, for example, you might plant peas just before flying someplace warm for spring break. Peas grow upward and must be supported by trellises or poles. This makes them easy to harvest and creates an attractive vertical backdrop in the garden. The three most common varieties are sweet peas (don't eat the shell), snow peas and snap peas (eat the shell).

Pole beans and green beans, also known as string beans, are similar to peas in that they grow vertically and usually need support, such as a pole or trellis, but the bush bean plant spreads outward and doesn't need any vertical support. Bean plants produce lots of fruit that is great for picking (regularly) and eating right away. They like warmer weather than peas and can be planted after the last frost. Once they start producing well, you can start picking beans off the vine every day. Beans add nitrogen to the soil that benefits other herbs and veggies you plant nearby, such as cilantro.

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  • USDA zones: 2-10
  • Full sun
  • Well-drained soil
  • 1 inch of water per week
  • Days to harvest: 50-55
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8. Beets

Beets are flexible about temperature and can be planted in any month from March to September except for May. They need plenty of water but are otherwise low-maintenance, although they should be thinned (like carrots) to prevent overcrowding. Beets can be harvested at almost any time depending on your preference. One of the best things about beets is that even though they are root vegetables, you can eat the whole plant. The bright-colored bulb is the root, and the greens are just as tasty. Sautéed beet greens taste like a cross between spinach and Swiss chard.

  • USDA zones 2-10
  • Partial sun
  • Loose, deep, well-draining soil
  • Water deeply and regularly for full-size roots
  • Days to harvest: 50-55

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references

Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.