4 Vegetables For Your First Garden

Whether you’ve decided to start a garden for the first time because you want to eat healthier, cleaner food or because you want to improve your family’s food security while lowering your grocery bills, there’s never been a better time to learn the valuable, life-enriching, and potentially life-saving skill of vegetable gardening.

That’s because there’s an abundance of information available to help you start growing whatever vegetable you desire.

Yet, this wealth of knowledge that’s at your fingertips with a quick online search can be overwhelming if you’ve never gardened before.

Skip the Overwhelm By Planting a Beginner Garden

While it is a good idea to start with a vegetable or two that you already buy from the grocery store — vegetables you know you’ll eat — one of the pitfalls for first-time gardeners is choosing vegetables that are more challenging to grow, including cauliflower, broccoli, and celery.

Failure, when you’re first starting out, is extremely discouraging. You might even label yourself as having a “brown thumb” — a term that is nonsense, by the way — and then completely give up on the idea of growing your own food.

The truth is, anyone can learn to grow their own vegetables if they’re invested in the process and start with the easiest vegetables to grow.

You wouldn’t expect yourself to paint like Picasso the first year you started painting, right? The same principle applies to growing food in a garden. Quick wins when you’re trying something new are a better way to start, so you can grow your skills step by step, building confidence and knowledge as you learn.

With this in mind, I’ve put together this list of 4 of the easiest vegetables to grow. By starting with just one or maybe a few of these vegetables, you can skip the overwhelm and plant your beginner vegetable garden with confidence.

This list provides general information about each vegetable, but sometimes different varieties require slightly different care. Be sure to follow the care instructions provided on the seed packet or plant tag.

Tomatoes

Tomato plants tend to be vigorous growers and produce very rewarding fruit. And, there are thousands of different tomato varieties to choose from when starting them from seeds.

However, to make things even easier, you can generally pick up tomato plants from your local home and garden center that will suit your needs as a first-time gardener. This eliminates the need to worry about hardening off plants or understanding how the days to maturity of each variety will affect the timing of your harvest and which varieties you can grow. Your local garden center will offer varieties that are a match for the length of your growing season.

Basic requirements:

  • Full sun (at least 6 hours)
  • Neutral to slightly acidic soil
  • Consistent watering

Tips for successfully growing your first tomato:

When choosing a tomato variety, it’s smart to consider your space. If you’ll be growing tomatoes in a container, you may want to choose a variety that is determinate (has a specified, genetically determined growth habit) vs. one that is indeterminate (will grow taller and wider as long as the season allows), which will require staking, trellising, or tomato cages.

And, while tomatoes are easy to grow, they are not completely immune to diseases. The two problems that concern most gardeners regarding tomatoes are blight and blossom end rot.

To combat blight, which is a family of diseases caused by fungal infection, seasoned home growers never plant tomatoes (or related plants) in soil that was used to grow tomatoes the prior year. They follow a garden rotation plan, which helps to prevent blight.

Blossom end rot is fairly common, so don’t fret if you see it. It doesn’t spread, and you may be able to salvage fruit that has yet to form. Blossom end rot happens primarily because of inconsistent watering, which interferes with the plant’s ability to take up calcium from the soil. In very rare instances, blossom end rot can be caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil.

Even though it’s rarely a calcium deficiency to blame, many home gardeners swear by planting their tomatoes with a little crushed eggshell. Generally, it doesn’t hurt, is good for the worms in your soil, and will eventually be broken down into calcium that can be used by plants in the future (just not the ones you’re growing now).

Bush Beans

Bush beans are a little bit like determinate tomatoes in that instead of growing up a trellis or pole as high as 15 feet, they grow into short bushes (about 2 feet tall) on which the beans all ripen at roughly the same time. This makes bush beans a great choice for beginners and gardeners with limited space, as there’s no need for an added support system. And, bush beans aren’t just a single variety, they include many varieties of green beans, yellow wax beans, and even dry beans.

Bush beans are also easy to grow because they do not need to be started indoors. In fact, they shouldn’t be started indoors because of their delicate and shallow root system. That means all you have to do is plant them directly in the garden after the risk of frost has passed, then keep them watered throughout the season.

Basic requirements:

  • Full sun (at least 6 hours)
  • Neutral to slightly acidic soil
  • Consistent watering

Tips for successfully growing bush beans:

Unless you have very poor fertility in your soil, beans do not need to be fertilized. Like all legumes, they fix nitrogen in the soil. In fact, too much nitrogen in the soil can lead to more green growth than necessary and less flowering and productivity.

Mulching around the plants will help keep the roots cool and retain moisture.

Bean plants need to be consistently watered to ensure they continue producing flowers (and beans).

Sweet Bell Peppers

There are many pepper varieties to choose from ranging from sweet to very, very hot, but the simplest to grow when you’re just starting to garden is the sweet bell pepper.

The days to maturity for sweet peppers tend to be quite a bit shorter than hot peppers (60 to 90 days vs. up to 150 days for some hot peppers), so you will reap the rewards of planting sweet peppers faster and you won’t have to start seeds several months ahead of your last frost date to produce fruit.

Like tomato plants, bell pepper plants can be easily found at your local garden center, making them an easy choice for growing in a beginner garden. But you can also start them from seeds about 8 weeks before your last frost date.

Basic requirements:

  • Full sun (at least 6 hours)
  • Neutral to slightly acidic soil is best, but peppers can tolerate slightly alkaline soil as well
  • Soil that drains well. Peppers need quite a bit of water (around 2 inches per week), but soggy soil is not tolerated and can lead to disease.

Tips for successfully growing bell peppers:

Make sure to add some compost to your soil before planting your peppers because providing a healthy dose of organic matter will help to keep moisture in the soil while allowing excess water to drain.

Peppers are a great candidate for growing in containers, but be sure to use a soil mix that’s good for raised beds or container gardening to avoid compaction and drainage problems.

You won’t need a lot of fertilizer for peppers, as they are generally light feeders. Simply adding organic fertilizer designed for vegetables to the soil just before planting is probably enough.

Like tomatoes, peppers are not frost tolerant and prefer the heat of summer. Daytime temperatures need to be between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit before you transplant pepper plants into the ground or their outside container. Nighttime temperatures should be consistently above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carrots

Yummy, crunchy carrots are easy to grow directly in the ground or in raised beds or containers. As a root vegetable, they don’t require a lot from the grower during the growing season.

No fertilizer is typically needed. In fact, high-nitrogen fertilizers can cause problems for carrots, such as forking, unwanted side shoots, and too much top growth. If you think you need to fertilize, use a high-potassium, high-phosphate fertilizer with low nitrogen.

The must-have for growing carrots is loose soil without obstructions. Rocky and hard clay soils will cause stunted, irregular growth in your carrots.

Basic requirements:

  • Full sun
  • Neutral soil
  • Soft, loamy or sandy soil that’s about 12 inches deep

Tips for successfully growing your first carrots:

Carrots are cold and frost tolerant, and the seeds can be directly sown as soon as the soil can be worked in your garden. Carrots can also be seeded every 3 weeks through mid-summer to yield a continuous harvest through the fall.

Sow your carrot seeds 1/4 inch deep. If you can plant them about 3 inches apart, you will set yourself up for less thinning as the carrots grow. However, carrot seeds are very small, and many growers will plant the seeds much closer than 3 inches apart because it is, quite frankly, a lot easier. If you plant closer than 3 inches, you’ll need to go back and thin them as they start to grow so that there are 3 to 4 inches between each carrot.

Other Easy-to-Grow Vegetables to Try

If nothing on this list has inspired you, there are plenty of other vegetables that are fairly easy to grow that are perfect for trying as a new gardener. Here’s a short list and some resources for other vegetables you might want to grow this year.

Homesteading and gardening blogger and chief homestead officer at Cedar Swamp Homestead | cedarswamphomestead.com