by Suzanne DeJohn[caption id="attachment_2656" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Fresh snow peas are tender and sweet."][/caption]
If you're new to vegetable gardening or if you're gardening with children, it's best to stick with easy-going, fast-growing crops. Here are some suggestions to get you started, along with growing tips.
Beans. Green Beans, Golden Wax Beans, Romano Beans, Lima Beans — these are all warm-weather crops. Easy to grow, they're an ideal crop for beginners and perfect for a child's garden because the seeds are large and easy to handle, and the plants sprout within a week. Sow seeds directly in the garden after all danger of frost is past. "Bush" beans grow into compact plants, produce an early crop and are best for beginners. "Pole" beans grow long vines, take longer to produce a crop and require a trellis or some other support to climb.
Beets. Cool-season beets are easy to grow and very nutritious. Sow seeds in early spring, about four weeks before your last frost. In a few weeks, "thin" the rows by pulling extra plants so the remaining plants are spaced about 4" apart. Don't toss the "thinnings" — you can eat the leaves fresh or sauteed; boil the roots until tender.
Cucumbers, Squash and Pumpkins. These crops are all related and have similar growing requirements. If your garden space is limited look for compact "bush" varieties of cucumbers and squash. Most pumpkin varieties require plenty of room to sprawl. Like beans, these are ideal crops for children to grow. Plant the seeds after all danger of frost is past.[caption id="attachment_2657" align="alignright" width="200" caption="A mix of red and green lettuce varieties makes a beautiful salad."][/caption]
Lettuce and Spinach. Because they prefer cool temperatures and can tolerate light frosts, sow these crops two to three weeks before the last spring frost date. You can start harvesting young leaves in a month to six weeks. Continue harvesting until the weather heats up, which turns leaves bitter. Then pull the plants and sow a warm-season crop, such as beans, in the same bed.
Peas. Sow peas in early spring, about a month before your last frost. Some varieties produce short plants, others produce tall vines and need a trellis or other support to climb. Peas are sweetest when they mature in cool weather; harvest frequently to encourage plants to keep producing. Once the weather heats up the plants will begin to flag; pull them and sow the bed with a warm-season crop.
Radishes. A perfect early-season crop for children because they sprout and grow so quickly, radishes are best sown about two weeks before the last frost. Within a month you'll be harvesting small radishes. Once the weather heats up they'll start to turn bitter and woody; pull the plants and replant the bed with a warm-season crop.
Eggplant, Peppers and Tomatoes. These crops are easy to grow, too, but they take a little more planning. They require a long season to grow and produce fruit (yes, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes are, botanically speaking, fruits), so it's best to start the seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. Then plant the seedlings outdoors once all danger of frost is past.[caption id="attachment_2659" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Pumpkins and squash are easy to grow -- but require a lot of space in the garden."][/caption]
Herbs. Basil, dill, parsley and other herbs are beautiful (and delicious) additions to any vegetable garden. They also attract pollinators like butterflies and bees — vital for crops like cucumbers, squash and pumpkins whose flowers need pollinating to produce a harvest.[caption id="attachment_2662" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="The flowers on herbs, like this basil, attract garden pollinators."][/caption]