5 Food Plants that are Super Easy to Grow
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Whether you’re just starting out as a new gardener or you’re working with little space, my best advice is to start small with a handful of plants that are easy to grow.
Last year was my first year as a veggie gardener and I was a little overzealous, especially considering I was due to give birth mid summer. By the time our baby girl was born we were elbows deep in tomatoes that needed constant pruning, spinach that was bolting in the heat, vining squash that was taking over our yard and then an apple season that we could hardly keep up with. Not that it was a bad season by any stretch! But it was a lot to deal with all at once, especially come harvest time. That harvest season was also my first time canning and preserving, so it was a steep learning curve… especially with a newborn!
We grew spinach, broccoli, onions, carrots, peas, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, pumpkin, blueberries and strawberries. We also harvested tons of apples, cherries and grapes from trees and vines that are already established on our property. On top of that, we were part of a CSA, which provides weekly boxes of local fruits and veggies. AND I bought a ton of stuff from the weekly farmers market, including about 10 lbs of blueberries and green beans to preserve.
What I’m saying is, don’t be like me. Well, be a little like me:) But if you don’t want the overwhelm, just try a few things out first. Don’t go crazy and grow too much variety. Stick to a handful of plants and focus instead on growing a few different types of fruits and veggies.
Choose plants that are easy to grow and high-yielding with little effort. A variety of berries, legumes (beans, peas), tomatoes, squash and onions are a good start! Growing a plant or two from each group is good for your garden and will give you some good basic gardening wisdom to build on.
If you’re wondering where to start, the following veggies will give you the most bang for your buck, meaning you’re likely to get a good harvest with a few plants and/or minimal effort. The plants you choose and the amounts you grow will depend upon how much space you have. But if you’ve got space for a small garden (or even just a sunny balcony), these 5 fruits and veggies are your best bet.
There’s nothing quite like the taste of the first ripe strawberry of summer, fresh off the vine. The only thing better is the fact that this vine is a prolific one that keeps on giving. In fact, strawberries will take over your yard if you allow the runners to grow wild!
To keep them from spreading, strawberries do best in containers, which makes them an excellent candidate for balcony gardening. Our strawberries grow in large planters on our deck. We also planted a single strawberry plant that was a gift from one of my students in its own pot. We planted it in a strawberry jar like this one and trained the runners into each pocket. One plant has now multiplied into a few plants with barely any effort.
Our plants have also withstood one of the most brutal winters on record here, making them a hardy perennial. Over all they are a tasty addition to the garden with a really great return on investment! They can be eaten fresh, frozen whole or turned into a luscious strawberry jam for a taste of summer all year long.
Growing beans is almost like a right of passage for gardeners. Planting a bean seed, watching it grow and seeing it instinctively grab hold of a trellis and climb all the way to the top… It’s a pretty amazing thing to witness in the garden. It’s also pretty easy to grow beans. The large seeds are very recognizable and you can direct sow them in the ground. They can also be started indoors and are a great starter plant to for kids to grow. They make nice gifts too in you have extra seedlings to give away!
While there are many types of beans to choose from, I recommend growing a pole bean that you and your family will eat. A pole bean is one that climbs a trellis versus a bush bean which grows low to the ground. Since pole beans climb up they require less space. We like green beans, but if you prefer a dried bean bean there are many varieties to choose from.
Last year we were gifted Scarlett Runner beans. We planted them and they gave us tons of beans, but we didn’t really know what to do with them. We dried most of them and stored them in the pantry. It would have made more sense for us to grow green beans, so that’s what we’re growing this year.
Considered a fruit in the gardening world and a vegetable in the culinary world, there is nothing quite so versatile as the humble tomato. Intensely flavourful when eaten fresh off the vine, tomatoes are also the basis of everything from pasta sauce and soups to ketchup and condiments. They can be prepared and preserved in a multitude of ways, and they even freeze easily if you can’t be bothered canning and drying them right away (or at all).
Tomatoes are also self-pollinating; This means they will bear fruit even without the help of pollinating insects and are a good candidate for seed-saving. They are easy to grow in containers on a sunny balcony and, aside from some pruning and watering, require little effort for a good-sized harvest.
The biggest difficulties with tomatoes are issues like blight and a short growing season or early frost. Although we did personally struggle with a major weed problem as well as a siege of wood bugs that feasted on our plants, that is not the norm and was more a result of our greenhouse conditions than anything else. This year we will be growing them outdoors in containers while we deal with the greenhouse. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on our progress!
Garlic is part of the allium family, which includes onions, shallots, chives and leeks. All alliums are fairly easy to grow and have few pests due to their strong odour. Chives are a great plant to grow in your herb garden: They have a long growing season and are a perennial that returns year after year with very little effort. But if you have a little more space, I would highly recommend growing a few heads of garlic. A “set it and forget it” plant, garlic is one of the easiest things we’ve grown so far.
Garlic does best when planted in the fall just before the first frost. For each bulb you plant you will get one head. Here in the northwest, we plant in October and the garlic is ready to harvest in July. We let the garlic go through the cold, wet winter and then spring. We don’t even have to worry about watering until the dry summer kicks in. The incredibly yummy garlic scapes can be harvested in June and finally the heads of garlic are ready in July. This also leaves time to plant a fall crop in its place.
Garlic is another great candidate for container gardening if your space is limited. Once harvested, garlic is easy to cure and can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to months at a time. The bulbs are also easy to save and replant the following year. You probably won’t make it that long before eating it all though. Garlic is one of the most widely used staples in many dishes from a wide range of cuisines.
A word of caution: Although it is possible to plant and grow store-bought garlic bulbs, it’s recommended that you buy seed garlic when you’re ready to plant. Store-bought seeds and bulbs can ruin your soil if they are not 100% organic and GMO-free.
Perhaps the most notoriously prolific vegetable in existence, it has been said that cucumbers will invade your house if you don’t lock your doors when they’re in season. Easy to grow like most squash, cucumbers grow on a vine and like to spread out across your yard. You can grow them on a balcony or in a small space by training them up a trellis or fence.
Cucumbers are high-yielding plants so be prepared to pickle them or gobble them up fresh because they unfortunately don’t keep long once harvested.
Since we love pickles but we aren’t huge fresh cucumber eaters, we’re growing 9 pickling cucumber plants this year and two long (regular) cucumber plants . You can also juice cucumbers to enjoy fresh or freeze it in ice cube trays to add to drinks later.
If neither fresh cucumbers nor pickles float your boat, pretty much any squash is easy to grow. Zucchini is a great summer squash to try and spaghetti, butternut and pumpkin are all great additions to your fall garden! Keep in mind, however, that squash need lots of space to grow. They can be trellised, but particularly big, bulky winter squash might not be the best candidates for a balcony garden.
Gardening is all about experimentation
There are so many other awesome plants out there and I highly encourage you to try as many as you can. But if you’re just beginning or are short on space or time, start with this list of garden A-listers and you’ll feel like an expert in no time.
Once you nail these plants you can add to your repertoire the following year. Just make sure you learn a thing or two about preserving so you don’t lose your harvest! Or just spread the love by sharing your bounty with others. After all, no food that is shared and enjoyed is ever wasted.
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