10 Vegetables That Are Easier to Grow Than Tomatoes

As the go-to plant for new gardeners, tomatoes really aren't the best choice. Here's what to try first instead.

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This week Made+Remade is helping you grow your Best Vegetable Garden Ever! We'll tell you everything you need to know to create a blue-ribbon vegetable garden whether you live in a condo or a Colonial.

Don’t get me wrong, I love tomatoes. Yes, they’re summer in a bite, and no, store-bought ones cannot even compete with homegrown. But, they require a lot of care, attract a number of pests and are prone to diseases. Plus, they’re tricky to grow from seed. My advice for your first season of vegetable gardening is to try one of the 10 options below, for the various reasons described. As a bonus, many can easily be grown from seed, so in addition to being easier than tomatoes, they’re also cheaper.

Onions are Variety of Strong Scented Alliums

Onions are Variety of Strong Scented Alliums

Growing onions from onion sets is probably the easiest way to produce a good crop of quality onions. Plant onion sets as soon as the soil warms, by late February is the best. They are basically a trouble free crop.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Onions

Start with sets (immature bulbs) or bundles of bare-root seedlings in spring, and grow enough onions to last you all season. You can also plant close together and harvest every other one for green onions before the bulbs start to mature.

Cajun Belle Peppers

Cajun Belle Peppers

Small peppers fit neatly in a window box and provide a splash of color—along with a tasty harvest. Cajun Belle peppers offer a just-right blend of sweet flavor and spicy bite that every member of the family will approve. This 2010 All-America Selections winner frequently has fruit on the plant in several shades: lime green, orange and bright red.

Photo by: All-AmericaSelections.org

All-AmericaSelections.org

Peppers

In my experience, hot peppers are easier, primarily because it takes less time for the actual pepper to mature than for a larger bell pepper to fill out. You can start easily from seed in late spring, but transplants are also readily available.

Mascotte Bean

Mascotte Bean

Most beans need at least 18 inches of soil to produce, but not Mascotte beans. This 2014 All-America Selections winner thrives in shallow soil, yielding plenty of French filet beans that are 5 to 6 inches long. This is a bush-type bean, so it doesn’t need support.

Photo by: All-AmericaSelections.org

All-AmericaSelections.org

Green Beans

Start from seed in late spring to summer, grow these guys vertically on trellises, and you have a virtually care-free plant. Or try bush-type plants, which don't need support. Just be sure to pick daily during harvest season or your plants will get away from you. 

Cool Characters

Cool Characters

This closeup of a front yard edible garden by Home & Garden Design, Inc shows how a glass cloche protects a seedling tomato plant from cool nights while Buttercrunch lettuce, romaine, and cabbage thrive in the breeze.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Danna Cain, ASLA at Home & Garden Design, Inc.

Photo courtesy of Danna Cain, ASLA at Home & Garden Design, Inc.

Lettuce

Popular Lettuce Varieties to Grow

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Lettuce ‘Sangria’

This butterhead type matures to form a loose heart with soft leaves, and a pretty red flush that will brighten up a salad. Easy to grow and quick to mature, it does well in poorer soil and has some resistance to mildew.

Sow: Early spring to late summer
Harvest: Late spring to mid-fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lettuce ‘Freckles’

This semi-cos variety forms an open head with green leaves that are spectacularly splattered with red. A good choice for flower borders, where it matures quickly. Plants are slow to bolt, even in warm weather.

Sow: Early spring to late summer
Harvest: Late spring to mid-fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lettuce ‘Tom Thumb’

A gardeners’ favorite, this compact, green, butterhead lettuce rapidly forms dense, sweet-tasting hearts. Ideal for small gardens because it can be planted at high densities and is ready for harvest quickly.

Sow: Early spring to midsummer
Harvest: Late spring to early fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lettuce ‘Little Gem’

This cos lettuce is familiar from the supermarket shelves, but is even crisper and sweeter if you grow it yourself. Its diminutive size makes it perfect for small gardens, and it is one of the fastest-cropping cos types.

Sow: Early spring to midsummer
Harvest: Late spring to early fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lettuce ‘Delicato’

Loose leaf lettuces are the quickest and easiest to grow, either as cut-and-come-again baby leaves or for harvesting whole when mature. This deep red oakleaf variety has a pleasant flavor.

Sow: Early spring to midsummer
Harvest: Mid-spring to mid-fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lettuce ‘Catalogna’

A tasty, green, oakleaf lettuce that you will not want to forget to sow successionally all through summer. The tender leaves have a fine flavor and the non-hearting plants are slow to bolt, should they get the chance.

Sow: Early spring to midsummer
Harvest: Mid-spring to mid-fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lettuce ‘Lollo Rossa-Nika’

The red leaves of this frilled lettuce are so dark as to be almost purple and are incredibly ornamental as well as appetizing. Young leaves taste sweet, and, although they turn bitter as they grow, the curled heads look fabulous.

Sow: Early spring to midsummer
Harvest: Late spring to midsummer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lettuce ‘Challenge’

Crisphead lettuces are similar to the iceberg types. This reliable variety forms large, solid hearts of crunchy leaves and performs well when sown early and late under cloches. Good resistance to mildew and bolting.

Sow: Early spring to midsummer
Harvest: Late spring to mid-fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lettuce ‘Sioux’

A pretty red-tinged iceberg variety, with leaves that intensify in color in warmer weather, giving the plants good ornamental qualities that are so valuable in small gardens. Perfect color and crunch for salads.

Sow: Early spring to midsummer
Harvest: Early summer to mid-fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Spinach ‘Perpetual Spinach’

Not a true spinach, but spinach beet, with a taste similar to Swiss chard. It is easy to grow because it rarely runs to seed, even in dry conditions. Succulent green leaves are produced prolifically and crops can be gathered all winter.

Sow: Mid-spring to midsummer
Harvest: Anytime
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Spinach ‘Tetona’ F1

A high-yielding spinach producing a profusion of rounded dark green leaves. This is the perfect variety for sowing as a cut-and-come-again crop to produce baby leaves for salads, but it can also be left to mature.

Sow: Early spring to late summer
Harvest: Late-spring to Late-fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Arugula ‘Apollo’

This cultivated variety has large, rounded, green leaves and a strong peppery flavor without any bitterness. The plant is easy to grow as a cut-and-come-again crop in pots or in the ground. Water well in hot weather.

Sow: Early spring to midsummer
Harvest: Mid-spring to mid-fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Best grown during spring and fall, or in light summer shade in cooler locations, lettuce is easy peasy. Lettuce starts easily from seed, but you may need to thin plants as they come up to allow room for growth. Pick leafy varieties often and the plant will just provide more and more. 

Zucchini Plant Container Garden

Zucchini Plant Container Garden

Modern plastic containers feature outstanding colors that give a garden snap and sizzle. Shapes vary from traditional terra-cotta pot tubs and trugs. Plastic is lightweight, frostproof and durable. Because plastic isn’t porous, it keeps soil moist, which means less watering for you. Dark colored plastic pots in full sun do heat soil as they absorb sunlight, and some plastics become brittle over time.

Photo by: Gardener's Supply Co. at Gardeners.com

Gardener's Supply Co. at Gardeners.com

Summer Squash

I hear other gardeners talk about harvesting summer squash, like yellow crookneck and zucchini, by the armfuls, so I've included it here. My experience hasn't been quite so dramatic, but I have found the plants easy to grow from seed and productive, if the pests don't overtake them. Why just summer varieties and not winter ones like butternut or acorn? Because those plants take so much longer to grow from planting to harvest.

Cane Wigwams Used to Support Cucumber Plants

Cane Wigwams Used to Support Cucumber Plants

Plant cucumbers and gently tie the stems to the supporting canes or wigwams. They grow like vines and will hang on by themselves, but the extra support makes all the difference, especially when the crops start appearing.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Cucumbers

Cukes are similar to summer squash in how they grow, because the plants are cousins. Start from seed and let them run, or support on trellises to keep the fruit off the ground. Pick often during harvest, or you'll have cucumbers that grow well beyond their tastiest size.

accidental peas

accidental peas

This pea vine is the result of my husbands pea shooting practice - it popped up unexpectedly in amongst my snap dragons and are delicious. I have now been motivated to plant some of his dried peas and hopefully gather enough peas for a meal.

Peas

Peas, particularly sugar snap peas, are one of my all-time favorites, and may be my best recommendation for new gardeners. Plant seeds early in the spring and give them a little trellis for support. I actually use tomato cages. Pick often and eat them right out of the garden. They're also a great first plant for kids to try.

Radish Seeds are Ready to Plant

Radish Seeds are Ready to Plant

Before planting radish seeds, make sure the soil is free of large lumps.

©2010, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2010, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Radishes

Start from seed in spring or fall, and thin seedlings to allow the roots room to grow. The Easter egg radish variety is a personal favorite for its mix of pretty pastel colors.

Chantenay Red Core Carrot

Chantenay Red Core Carrot

Select this Chantenay Red Core carrot if you garden in the South or have heavy or rocky soil. This 1929 variety resists splitting and forking, even in rocky soil. Roots are 5 to 7 inches long with gold-orange flesh and a red center. Carrots store well and are a good choice for juicing or eating out of hand.

Photo by: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at RareSeeds.com

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at RareSeeds.com

Carrots

Growing carrots is very similar to growing radishes. Start with a short variety to decrease the growing time. When the tops of the carrots start popping up through the soil, they're ready to harvest.

A Square Foot Cool-Season Vegetable Garden

A Square Foot Cool-Season Vegetable Garden

A vegetable plant occupies each square foot of this raised bed, following a small-space vegetable growing technique known as square foot gardening.

Photo by: Hortus, Ltd./P. Allen Smith

Hortus, Ltd./P. Allen Smith

Greens

Like lettuce, other greens are best grown during the cooler season or in light shade in warmer months. Start kale, mustard greens, collards, spinach and other myriad greens from seed. In my warm climate, they survive all winter long. 

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