Growing fruits and vegetables in your garden can be a rewarding experience for the whole family. However, not all fruits and veggies are equally easy to master and a few can be downright difficult. Continue on for a list of garden vegetables to grow for all levels.
Some crops are considered cool season crops, while others are warm season crops. Cool season crops such as peas, broccoli and potatoes tend to grow better in the spring and fall, while warm season crops do best when planted in late spring and mature throughout the summer. Utilizing succession planting can be a huge benefit to bolster your crops.
We'll start with a few vegetables that just about anyone can grow — even on a porch or patio! These plants are hardy, versatile and produce an abundance of crops you can share with friends and family.
Peas love cool temperatures and do best when planted in spring or fall. These climbing plants use their tendrils to wrap around whatever they can to hold their thin vines steadfast while they grow upward. As they mature, peas produce flowers and pods relatively quickly. Because of their quick growth, they can be planted in close proximity to other garden vegetables and along fence lines. Plant cultivars such as 'Easy Peasy' for first picking in about 60 days and for an extended harvest, plant three rounds of seeds in one-week intervals.
When discussing vegetable gardening for beginners, you can't pass up lettuces. These fast-growing plants can be sown directly in the garden and harvested in as little as 50 days. For variety, try a leafy mix such as the 'Looseleaf Blend' and enjoy different leaf shapes, colors and textures. While lettuce has a tendency to bolt (go to flower), keeping your plants well watered and shielded from extreme heat can help extend the harvest of crisp leaves. You can also extend your harvest by planting successive crops every two weeks throughout the growing season.
Homegrown tomatoes can hardly be compared to store-bought fruit with their vine-ripened sweetness, juicy texture and bright colors. Hybrid cherry tomatoes such as 'Cherry Baby' are easy-to-grow warm season crops and will produce fruit 70 days from planting. Cherry tomatoes are particularly easy to grow because they produce many smaller fruits that ripen quickly and take less energy from the plant. Most cherry tomatoes are also indeterminate growers, meaning they continue to grow and set fruit throughout the season, ensuring a steady crop.
No list of garden vegetables to grow would be complete without summer squash. Given full sun and plenty of water, these warm season growers reach maturity in about 40 to 50 days after planting and will continue to produce until late summer. Cultivars such as 'Burpee's Best' zucchini can be started outdoors in late spring after all danger of frost has passed.
The next five vegetables take the experience level up a notch. Although perfectly doable in the home garden, they require more planning and patience to be successful. Given a little extra attention, they're sure to be nutritious additions to the annual vegetable garden.
Broccoli is a staple food item in most homes, but few people realize they take a bit more care to grow in the home garden. As with most vegetables in the cabbage family, broccoli is a cool season crop and does best when planted in spring, fall or even during the winter months in warmer climates. Also like their cabbage relatives, when stressed by heat, drought or crowded roots, they'll "bolt" and go to flower, so you'll have to take care to keep these plants happy. Bolt-resistant cultivars such as 'Sun King' should be planted in well-composted, moist soil in full sun and reach maturity at 70 to 80 days after planting. For successive plantings, sow seeds indoors before the last frost and continue for three to four weeks thereafter.
Native to the Andes mountains in South America, potatoes are another cool season crop that prefers rich soil and plenty of room to spread their roots. What makes potatoes a little more difficult is that they're best grown in raised mounds above the soil line for ease of eventual harvest. Potatoes are started as "seed potatoes" — basically sliced up potatoes, each with its own "eye" or growth point — and sown in the soil as soon as it can be worked in early spring. Cultivars such as 'Yukon Gold' are medium-sized spuds and ready for harvest about 100 days after planting. To harvest, remove soil from around the base of the plant and gently tug at the plant, allowing for the soil to fall away. Then, gently dig out the remainder of the potato.
Winter squash grows in much the same way as summer squash and can be started outdoors after the last frost. What makes winter squash more difficult to grow is that it tends to require more time to mature its thick outer skin and grows on longer sprawling vines. Selections such as 'Burpee's Butterbush' can be stored for months in a cool, dark place within the home and make excellent soups long into the winter season! Be sure to choose a location within your yard where the vines can have plenty of space and full sun throughout the growing season.
Sweet corn is another crop that requires a lot of square footage for mass planting and plenty of sun, but it deserves a place on our intermediate list of garden vegetables to grow. For those with the space, plant these crops en masse for proper pollination and give them as much full sun as possible throughout the summer. While corn is drought tolerant, the ears will fill out much better when given ample moisture — especially as ears begin to appear. Because sweet corn is wind pollinated, plant cultivars such as 'Early Sunglow' at two- to three-week intervals with other types of corn to avoid cross-pollination.
Heirloom tomatoes are a sight to see in the summer garden. Bursting with flavor and with a classic old-school tomato look, cultivars such as 'Brandywine Pink' are the epitome of garden Americana. What sets heirlooms apart from hybrid tomatoes, however, is these plants are more difficult to grow. If you're new to gardening, they can also be somewhat underwhelming: Heirlooms lack the vigor of hybrids and produce far fewer fruits on large, rambling vines. You'll need to take care with their placement in the garden and keep moisture at a constant to avoid cracked tomato skins. When you meet these requirements, they're sure to be the talk of the table and enjoyed by tomato lovers!
To learn more about planning your vegetable garden and how to grow fruit and vegetable crops, check out Burpee's Garden Guide, an excellent resource for all your gardening questions.