Get started with these 5 beginner veggies that will do well in most climates and growing conditions. Perfect for beginner food growers!
As a beginner food grower the big question is what to grow in the first year.
You might be excited about the prospect of growing everything but then the overwhelm sets in. Maybe it’s how much time you have, how much you can spend on seeds or seedlings and other supplies and tools, lack of space or lack of knowledge and confidence.
So start small! And pick these beginner veggies that typically grow well without too much fuss.
Tomatoes for instance are very popular to grow but they have their challenges such as pests, proper watering technique, diseases such as blight and lack of nutrients.
So I’ve picked 5 that I think are great for beginners. Give these a try if you haven’t already and see how it goes.
Lettuce is one of those crops that has many benefits when it’s homegrown.
You can pick what you need rather than a whole head and have it rot away in the fridge. Great for salads, sandwiches and wraps.
There are so many varieties available as seeds or seedlings at a good nursery or garden centre, varieties you won’t find at your local grocery store. And some hybrid varieties are bred to be somewhat bolt-resistant.
And non-organic lettuce is heavily sprayed with pesticides to keep it pristine.
Lettuce can be planted several times during the growing season as it grows quickly. It also does well in part or filtered shade and in hot summers is actually better not being in full sun as it will bolt (grow a flower stalk for seeds.)
It’s a great container plant for those that either don’t have a garden or yard or if you want to have some lettuce close to your kitchen door for easy picking.
And you can even grow it indoors as long as it gets at least some light.
And it really is simple to plant. If you’re growing it from seed, either start the seeds indoors before last frost and then transplant out after last frost or under row covers or cloches to keep it from freezing. Or seed directly after last frost.
Seedlings you buy can go into the ground or containers again after last frost.
Give it adequate water to keep it moist. Too much water can cause rot though so don’t overdo it!
And while you can just plant it in compost and it will be happy, seedlings may require a dose of liquid seaweed fertilizer (or if you can’t get seaweed, then try a compost or worm castings tea.)
Pick the outer leaves or the whole head. Keep sowing or planting seedlings throughout the growing season as you’ll find you need to replace the plants as they will bolt when it gets too hot. If you have lots of problems with premature bolting, then wait until the late summer as you can also grow into the fall until first frost.
Watch out for slugs and snails as they can decimate young lettuce seedlings. You can try copper tape, pennies or mesh or eggshells or diatomaceous earth around your seedlings to protect them. Or only grow in containers that are off the ground.
You might also get whiteflies or aphids. You can rinse those off with a garden hose or spray them with a soapy water solution.
For more info also check out Growing Lettuce At Home: Easily Learn How In A Few Simple Steps
I know, not everyone loves kale, especially kids. But it really depends on how you prepare it.
Kale chips are popular with kids. Especially if you add some nooch (nutritional yeast) and some spices.
Or as we do, hide finely chopped kale in pasta sauces or stews.
I also use kale in my green smoothies in the morning for a vitamin and energy boost.
Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can grow at home in almost any climate as it is high in A, C and K vitamins and anti-oxidants and minerals.
And it’s easy to grow from either seedlings or seeds. You’ll likely get more varieties by buying seeds, including some red kales. There’s even dinosaur kale! More commonly called lacinato kale.
It’s also quite cold hardy and can manage through winters down to about zone 8 which means down to about -6.5C or 20F. Or you can grow it in a cold frame or protected with row cover or cloches in colder zones.
You can also grow it as a micro green indoors.
And like lettuce it’s simply to start seeds or transplant. It benefits from row cover in spring when planting it out as do most brassicas. This mainly is for pest protection as kale can be a magnet for aphids and cabbage worm.
It grows pretty well by itself. So long as it gets an inch of water a week in a garden bed or if growing in a container, you keep the container moist and don’t let it dry out completely. And generally it doesn’t need much in the way of fertilizer. For vigorous growth though a good quality compost will help as will again an application of a seaweed fertilizer or worm or compost tea on the seedlings as they are developing.
Pick the leaves as they get bigger. Typically the younger leaves are the most tender and you can eat the thin stalks. Older leaves will have a thick, tough stalk, but you can still strip off the leafy bits for smoothies or cooking and compost the stalk or cut in small pieces and stir-fry.
Trim off any of the lower leaves if they get yellow or eaten by slugs and snails (you can try the same tricks as with lettuce to minimize the damage.)
And you’ll likely then get kale “trees”. Thick stalks with kale leaves at the top. They look like palm trees!
Spinach is another crop that is similar to lettuce. In fact has some of the same qualities, including being able to pick what you need, is heavily sprayed if non-organic and does have a tendency to bolt.
So this section is going to be a bit shorter so I don’t repeat myself too much!
Spinach is great substitute or complement for lettuce in salads, sandwiches, wraps and smoothies. It also cooks down (quite a bit!) and is great served with fried, scrambled eggs or omelettes.
Same planting and care instructions as for lettuce.
Similar issues with pests as well.
Bolting is a problem too, so spinach is often considered a cool season crop, planted in early spring and late summer for a fall crop.
One interesting note though: there are some perennial spinaches. One is New Zealand spinach. Now it’s not really a true spinach, but taste and leaf shape is similar. It is a perennial in mild winters, so might need protection in colder climates.
“Let’s give peas a chance”. Okay, I had to use that pun, because I love it so much!
But yes, peas are a great crop for beginners.
We’re probably all familiar with the peas that come frozen in bags. While those are okay, fresh peas are just so much better in terms of flavour!
And kids usually love eating them.
They’re also a great complement to carrots and can be steamed or boiled together. Pea soup, stews and mushy peas are popular too. And they’re a great source of protein especially for vegetarians or vegans. And pea protein is now being use in many meat-substitutes.
Peas generally are bought as seeds although you can buy seedlings too. They sprout so easily though that they’re perfect for beginners and even kids to grow.
There are lots of varieties, but the main types are shelling peas (where you eat mainly the peas, not the pods), snap peas and snow peas (you can eat the pods on those.) There are some dwarf varieties that might not need trellising, but generally all others are vines that need something to climb up on.
The seeds however don’t handle cold, wet soils well. I have now stopped planting them directly in the garden for my early spring crop as our winters and early springs are very wet and I’ve had my seeds rot away on me. So I do sow them in my greenhouse and then transplant them once they’ve grown a few inches tall.
Plant them in a row against a trellis of some sort. Even just a net strung between two posts works.
You can even grow them in a container with three stakes in it and string wrapped around the stakes all the way up to give the peas a chance (I had to use that pun again!) to climb up.
And watch them grow, especially once it warms up and the days get longer!
You can prune off the tips and actually eat the young pea shoots in a salad or stir-fry. And that will help the plants become a bit bushier and likely increase your harvests.
Pick the pods once plump if they are shelling peas unless you like the smaller baby peas. Pick snap and snow pea pods once they are a decent size but before they get too old as they’ll get tough and stringy. Use scissors to remove them or a sharp fingernail, as you could risk damaging the plant just by trying to pluck them off.
When you remove the plants at the end of the season, remove just the tops above the soil and leave the roots in the soil. Peas naturally grab nitrogen from the air and store it in the roots in nodules. That nitrogen will then be beneficial for other crops, especially leafy greens that you plant later in the same spot.
Beans are in the same family as peas, a legume. The great thing about beans is that there are so many kinds! And that’s also a problem as you’ll be tempted to grow almost every variety.
There are bush beans that only grow about a foot high but can be very productive and taste great steamed with some butter and herbs or like we do, a splash of soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. And then climbing beans such as pole beans that do well in limited spaces where you can take advantage of vertical space (like with peas.) You can even grow them in a large container. These blanch well for freezing for later enjoyment in winter.
And my favourite bean are drying beans. These beans are easy to store as you leave them on the vine until they start to dry, remove them from the pods, dry them on screens and then store them in mason jars in your pantry. They make great soups and stews!
Then there are also soybeans, which require a hotter summer and don’t produce much per plant. But fresh boiled edamame is so delicious, much sweeter than the frozen ones you get at the grocery store that usually come from Asian countries (and are likely GMO).
And one more: fava beans or broad beans. These beans can manage colder winters and are often planted in fall, although I plant them in early spring. Keep in mind though that some people are allergic to these beans and can’t eat them.
Bean seeds like peas generally are easy to sprout. And they do benefit from a drier soil to avoid rotting. However unlike peas, they need a warmer soil. I wait until early May generally to direct seed them in my raised beds. But then our last frost date typically is end of March, so the ground has warmed up quite a bit in April. Check local growth charts to see when to plant in your area.
For climbing beans such as pole beans, a teepee works well. Insert three tall stakes in about a 2-3 foot circle and tie together at the top. There are special caps or clips you can get that do that or just use a piece of wire or string. Then plant 3 seeds around each stake and watch them grow!
Beans generally just need a good compost to grow in. Like peas they also fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, so planting green leafy veggies after your beans are done is a great idea.
Pick them once they are ready. This varies with each variety. Usually you check the plumpness of the pods. But with bush and pole beans that you’ll eat fresh, pod and all, be careful you don’t wait too long as they can get stringy and tough.
You can also blanch them and then freeze them as I outline here: How to Freeze Vegetables From the Garden By Blanching Them
For drying beans wait until the pods start to dry and change colour. But don’t wait too long as some pods could open and spill the beans (now you know where that term comes from!)
So there you go. Five easy beginner veggies to grow in your first year. You don’t need to grow all of them of course. Maybe start with one or two and see how it goes.
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC