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.
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.
For high quality onions, it is important to harvest in dry weather and cure them before storage. Curing onions is simply drying the outer skin by allowing them to stay in the sun for a day or two after harvest. If they are harvested in wet weather, it makes the process much more difficult. Simply pull the onions and lay them on the ground, turning them once or twice to expose all sides to the sun.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 courtesy of Danna Cain, ASLA at Home & Garden Design, Inc.
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
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.
Gardener's Supply Co. at Gardeners.com
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at RareSeeds.com
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.
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.