10 Best Garden Crops for Beginners

Plan your first garden with these 10 easy crops that offer great cooking possibilities.
By Megan Phelps
December/January 2006
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Discover the pleasures of gardening by taking on crops that can grow easily in your first garden.

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If you want to grow a garden next spring, it’s never too early to start planning. One of the best ways to “learn as you go” is to read the seed catalogs that many companies will send for free. One of our favorites, with lots of gardening advice and great color photos, is Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

If you’re a beginner, consider starting with the 10 crops discussed below. All are easy to grow, and this combination offers lots of possibilities for cooking. Some of these crops are best grown by setting out started seedlings, but most are easy to grow from a packet of seeds.

1. Radishes. Radishes do well even in not-so-great garden soil and are ready to harvest in only a few weeks. Plant the seeds in spring and fall.

2. Salad greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula and corn salad). Pick your favorite, or try a mix — many companies sell mixed packets for summer and winter gardening. Plant the seeds in spring and fall, and you can pick salads almost year-round.

3. Green beans. Easy to grow and prolific. If you get a big crop, they freeze well, and they’re also delicious when pickled as dilly beans. Start with seeds after all danger of frost has passed.

4. Onions. Start with small plants, and if they do well, you can harvest bulb onions. If not, you can always eat the greens.

5. Strawberries. Perfectly ripe strawberries are unbelievably sweet, and the plants are surprisingly hardy. Buy bare-root plants in early spring. Put this perennial in a sunny spot and keep it well weeded.

6. Peppers. Both hot peppers and bell peppers are easy to grow. Start with plants and let peppers from the same plant ripen for different lengths of time to get a range of colors and flavors.

7. Bush zucchini. This squash won't take up as much room in your garden as many other types, and it’s very prolific. Start from seeds or transplants. You won't need more than a few plants for a bumper crop.

8. Tomatoes. There’s just no substitute for a perfectly ripe homegrown tomato, and it’s hard to go wrong when you start with strong plants. If you get a big crop, consider canning or freezing.

9. Basil. Many herbs are easy to grow, but basil is a good choice because it’s a nice complement to tomatoes. Basil is easy to grow from seeds or from transplants.

10. Potatoes. An easy-to-grow staple that stores well when kept cool. A simple and low-maintenance approach is to plant potatoes in straw rather than soil. ‘Seeds’ are whole or cut sections of potatoes, sold in early spring.

Post a comment below.


9/12/2013 6:17:15 AM
When creating a raised bed for your spring garden use woodblocx to do it. See the best alternative to railway sleepers at www.woodblocx.co.uk/railwaysleepers.php

4/18/2013 6:44:58 PM

4/18/2013 6:44:57 PM

4/18/2013 6:44:57 PM

LUCI Dawson
4/10/2007 12:00:00 AM
For how to grow potatoes in straw, check out this recent post in the Whole Foods & Cooking section:http://www.motherearthliving.com/issues/motherearthliving/whole_foods/when-to-plant-potatoes_421-1.html

GAIL Erman_1
1/4/2007 12:00:00 AM
The only herb that survived the move indoors for the winter is rue. I know it is good for discouraging flies but whatelse can it be used for? How can I grow better garlic. Last year it was very small and not in tight bulbs. Thanks AA 먀5ﭨ5Ń땰5湥tEﰀ5Ơ5Ň敧敮慲潴r5

1/4/2007 12:00:00 AM
FJohnsonThis is a great way to grow potatoes. My small son and I did this a couple years ago, when I was pregnant and did not want to have to dig the potatoes. We put cages made of wire right on the ground, and dug a shallow hole in the ground under it to retain water(we did this in our hard-packed front yard). We put in the potatoes, straw, and a little manure. When harvest time came we just unhooked the wire and pushed over the pile. It was wonderfully easy. The only thing I will do differently next time is to get some root crop fertilizer. Plain manure really grows great tops. Ha Ha. Also, if it's windy you might have to put a sheet or something to keep them from drying out. I had no trouble at all covering them in severe cold weather, though. The wire cages are easy to pin plastic or old sheets to.Good Luck!

1/2/2007 12:00:00 AM
Yes lay the potatoes on the ground then cover them with the hay/straw. A little manure, compost, or fertilizer can be added at this time. It is a good idea to allow the straw to remain on the ground after harvest to rot.Just keep adding more hay each yr. as needed. After a few yrs. no other fertilizer need be added. Your soil will become rich, black, and full of earth worms. Household garbage can be buried in the ground under the straw, this will add to your soil's fertility.

Faye Johnson
1/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Thanks for all the great tips and advice :) I think I am going to give this a try this year! I do have just one more quick question. Do you lay the potatoes on the ground and cover them with hay, or put them in it after you have it laid down? I am thinking you would lay them on the ground so they can reach the soil more quickly. Am I right. Thanks again for all your help:)

12/31/2006 12:00:00 AM
Potatoes grown under hay or straw should be covered by at least eight inches of straw, ten is better. And you can add more straw as the tops grow taller. The straw in the row should be at least two ft. wide. But it is better to cover the ground completely with straw in the area you plan to plant your potatoes, this helps with weed control and moisture retention. It is better to till the ground the first year you use this method, especially if you have heavy grass or weed growth. Here in Maine where we have abundant rain fall it is not necessary to water the potatoes, as the roots from your seed tubers will grow down into the ground and find plenty of moisture. In dryer states maybe watering is necessary, I dont know about that. In any case watering wont hurt. Just put your hand under the straw, if it feels moist no need to water. also keep watch of the tops, if they look green and healthy your ok. Hope this helps and just remember the thicker the layer of straw the better. As long as the tops can grow up to the surface you are fine.

12/31/2006 12:00:00 AM
I've seen this given before but don't know how much straw, etc. but you'd need to have it probably at least 8-12 inches I think because you'd need it deep enough to allow the tubers to grow and still be covered by straw. If you aren't sure you could use a mixture of straw and soil or compost. You have to have enough structure for the plants to hold themselves up as they grow. I wonder what you could find out by doing a search on wikipedia or organic gardenings website. have you tried a search on this website to see if the info is printed somewhere else?If you plant above ground in straw you'd have to water frequently because the water would run through to the soil beneath. i think.

Faye Johnson
12/31/2006 12:00:00 AM
Sorry, forgot this. How much water should they get since they would be above ground? As you most likely have already figured out, I am new to this:) So it would probably be easier to just give the directions from start to finish. Would be a lot easier for us "Blonde" gardeners LOL! Thanks Again!

12/30/2006 12:00:00 AM
anyone out there know anything about veggie gardens in Tucson, AZ??? It gets a little hot here in the summer, but that lets us get in an additional crop. I haven't done this in years, and need some advice on the type of veggies that will do well here. Thanks for your time, Larry

12/30/2006 12:00:00 AM
BHARRIS maybe you could use garden netting to shade your veggies from the sun. That would reduce the heat problem some. also would help with water retention. Good luck, Richard

12/30/2006 12:00:00 AM
For local conditions and plants.... consult the local garden club and the local county extention agent... and check out garden info in the local newspaper.

ANNE Hepp_3
12/29/2006 12:00:00 AM
BHarris, what you're describing is a kind of geothermal exchange. Our local (rural W. Co.) electric association is encouraging consumers to install such a system in either new construction or as a retro-fit.

12/29/2006 12:00:00 AM
I was raised on a farm and grew my own vegs and raised animals for another 16 yrs but I have a problem that I need help with... In a garden plants don't get as hot as they would on a balcony which is where I'd like to raise something. It is on the 3rd floor and faces the south and it gets too hot for me in the summer but I am hoping that it's not too hot to raise some kind of vegs....anyone have any idea which vegs would be able to tolerate very high temps and full sun? Anything besides corn because I don't eat corn. Thanks for any suggestions.

12/29/2006 12:00:00 AM
I need help with how to ask a different question. I noticed that much of the issue was on alternative energy but nothing that I saw talked about using the ambient temp of the earth. A friend designed a courthouse in OK that had double walls and under ground it had pipes that air was circulated through by means of a solar powered fan which pulled the air from the pipes into the building.... it kept the inside temp of the courthouse at 68 degrees all year round. that meant that in the winter they only needed a small amount of energy to suppliment this and raise the temp to a slightly more comfortable level and in the summer it kept it the same temp. Now what do you call this and how can we learn more about it? When people are building a new house why would they do anything else? Yes it takes more to build because you have to have a foundation that goes down lower than most houses but this would solve so much of your energy needs.anyone know what I'm talking about?

JOE clarke
12/29/2006 12:00:00 AM
Dear Fellow Mother Earth Readers; I sure hope that you all enjoy your winterseason and I would like to offer you this veryefficient planting method," free of charge " OFCOURSE, Most everyone has heard of the "earthbox growing method, it really does work. I haveconcocked my own version of this wonderful invention. Why not try it this way? Five gallonpails are available everywhere, usually free.Drill a 3/4" hole about 3" down from the top and another about the same up from the bottom. Get a piece of 5/8" black irrigation tubing about 6"long and place it through the lower hole and intothe upper side of a small plastic container, like a margerine tub. I used worn out 8" pots cut downto about 4" high. Next you will need a 16" or sopiece of that same tubing. Install it through the upper hole in the bucket side and down into the top of your inner container. This will allow you to pour your water into the upper tube and down into the empty space you have created in the middle of your 5 gallon earth pot. Fill with yourfavorite blend of sand, manure, compost or whatever you need for your choice of plants. Install a piece of plastic sheeting over the top with a small hole in it for the plant to protrude through and " WALLA ". You have just made an excellent earth box for just a little effort and a heck-of-a-lot less money than store bought. " Toomuchfun " Joe Clarke

12/29/2006 12:00:00 AM
Thanks for the geothermal exchange term..I forgot that you can find all kinds of stuff on Wikipedia...where I found it is also called Ground source heat exchange or heat pump...some use fluid that runs through the pipes in the ground and some use air. I'd think that air would be cheaper than having to maintain a fluid, etc. Why go to the extra expense and maintenance problems I think.Maybe i can find out my answer on vegs also...hmmmm.

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