Growing your very first kitchen garden this year? Congratulations!
You are probably already aware that it is best to start small. But if you are starting small, one of the questions you may have is what to grow in that limited space. The first and most important rule of thumb is to grow things that you enjoy eating. Once you have a list of favorites, however, you may decide to pare it back still further at first based on what is easiest to grow.
While the easy-to-grow list will depend largely on your climate, soil, and local pest population, there are some staples that belong in every garden. There are also a few plants that are particularly adapted to the vagaries of the Kansas climate, and still others that recommend themselves everywhere due to their minimal maintenance requirements.
Here are 10 favorites that may be worth a try in your first year’s garden, along with a few tips for success.
Asparagus may seem daunting to beginners at first, since it is a perennial, is frequently started from crowns rather than seeds, and cannot be harvested the first year.
But even with these limitations, asparagus is still an excellent plant for beginners—once it is established it requires relatively little care. Weeding, watering, and cutting down the old tops annually are all that is required. As an extra bonus, asparagus will be one of the first things you will get to harvest each spring!
Carrots are not as difficult to grow as many gardening guides would lead you to believe. There are two keys to growing long, straight carrots:
- Loosen the soil before planting.
- Use a generous layer of mulch to keep soil moisture levels even.
The rest is purely patience.
As a final note, for best flavor, select a variety bred for fresh eating rather than storage.
No garden would be complete without tomatoes, and with hundreds of varieties to choose from there is definitely a variety bound to grow well in your area. One choice you will have to make is between determinate (bush) and indeterminate (vine) varieties, depending on whether you want to support the plants with a cage or a trellis. Another decision you will need to make is whether to grow only slicing tomatoes or to plant a few of the extremely easy-to-grow saucing varieties for homemade salsa and the like.
Three tips for successful tomato growing are as follows:
- Strictly observe the recommended indoor planting and transplanting dates for your area (see our vegetable guide).
- Use plenty of mulch.
- Water the plants deeply in hot weather.
Radishes are famous for being easy to grow. Furthermore, they are ready to harvest quickly—you should be able to grow multiple crops of radishes every spring and a few more in the fall!
There is very little to say about the minimal maintenance requirements of the radish. About all it needs is regular watering.
6. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes grow more or less like weeds once they are established. The easiest way to get started with sweet potatoes is to buy slips, or young plants. If you keep them watered well during the first few critical weeks, they will require relatively little attention thereafter.
One final tip for harvesting sweet potatoes successfully—dig away from the base of the plant to avoid hitting the delicious sweet potatoes. If you damage the potatoes with a fork or shovel, they will not last long in storage.
Arugula is actually much hardier than lettuce, and the fact that it is a gourmet specialty green makes it particularly appealing. Arugula is a guaranteed confidence-booster for the novice gardener!
This plant is quite cold-hardy, but it will tend to become bitter as the growing season progresses. Err on the side of planting it a little too early rather than too late.
Jalapeños are arguably the easiest of the peppers to grow. They love hot summers and are tolerant of neglect.
No major growing recommendations are in order here. Just be careful when working with the peppers and their spicy oils in the kitchen. Wear clean plastic gloves when cutting jalapeños, and do not touch your face when handling them.
3. Lima Beans
Lima beans are known for thriving in all but the coldest, wettest climates. They are also more versatile than they are typically given credit for. If you do not enjoy old-fashioned butter beans, try letting the pods mature and harvesting the seeds to use as dry beans. They cook much quicker than black, kidney, or pinto beans.
There really isn’t much to say when it comes to lima bean maintenance. Bear in mind that watering too much is far more harmful to lima beans than watering too little.
Garlic really belongs in every garden, as it is so easy to grow and so essential in cooking. It is almost impossible to fail with garlic. You can plant it in the spring and pull it during onion harvest, or you can plant it in the fall and let it overwinter in the garden for nice big bulbs in the spring (we recommend the latter). You can even grow it in a cold frame or polytunnel for an earlier harvest. But this is not necessary for success—garlic will grow during the winter just fine under a layer of straw mulch.
The easiest way to start growing garlic is to buy a generous-sized, healthy-looking bulb at the grocery store and plant the individual cloves. After harvest, save a few of your best homegrown bulbs for future planting.
As for watering, err on the side of drier soil. Garlic will rot if overwatered, while the worst effect of underwatering is usually just smaller cloves. Always give the surface of the soil time to dry out between waterings.
The only other caution to observe when growing garlic is to give it enough time to cure after harvest before storage. While braiding is the traditional method, you can also spread the bulbs out on a mesh or chicken wire screen in a dry, airy location. Expect the curing process to take about two to three weeks.
1. Egyptian Walking Onions
This plant can make the worst gardener look like a seasoned green thumb. It propagates itself, it requires almost no attention, and it tastes delicious. It will satisfy your green onion needs without all the hassle of dealing with seeds or sets. And, with a healthy, generous-sized patch, you should be able to harvest onions in all but the hottest summer and coldest winter weather.
The main requirement of Egyptian onions is for periodic hand weeding. An occasional watering will encourage growth. Harvest is simple—just snip off a few branches with scissors, or pinch between your thumb and index finger. Always leave each plant a couple of healthy branches to promote vigor and propagation.
While Egyptian onions do a fine job of spreading all on their own, you can expand your patch even more quickly by collecting the mature bulbs from the tops of dry plants and planting them yourself.
More information on growing popular garden vegetables, including planting, care, and harvesting instructions.