The Hardiest Vegetables
Spring makes everyone want to head into their yard, spruce it up, and clean the grill for summertime gatherings and pool parties. Whether you’ve dabbled in gardening or are dedicated to tackling it for the first time, set yourself up for success by selecting vegetables that are hardy and forgiving of your lack of experience, attention, or time.
Before you choose your plants, identify a portion of your yard or property that receives full sun. Most plants drink in a minimum of six hours each day and many are happy with all-day rays. Do watch that your cool-weather options don’t bake in the sun. You could plant them in a slightly shaded spot or just get them in the ground early or late in the season when temperatures are lower.
Also make sure to provide your plants with premium soil. Organic mix is always best so you can rest assured that your food won’t absorb toxic chemicals. Choose organic plants or seeds for the healthiest home-grown option. If you’re a gardening newbie, we recommend starting with plants instead of seeds when possible, just to give yourself a leg up on the learning curve. Here are some hardy, reliable vegetable options that tolerate some neglect and still achieve success in the garden.
This is actually an entire category of vegetables, but most of them have the same growing characteristics. Carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, and radishes all fall into this group. The most important thing to remember about root vegetables is that they need room to grow straight down. That means you need to provide very loose, well-drained soil. Heavy, clay soil will be challenging for them, so if that's what your yard has, opt for raised beds. Make sure your soil is deep enough for the produce you plant. For example, Danvers carrots can reach 10-12 inches. Other varietals grow even longer, so pay attention when purchasing seeds. Root vegetables can also be intercropped (planted in very close proximity) with above-ground options like lettuce or bush beans.
Garlic and Onion
Garlic and onion could actually be grouped with the root vegetables, since they also grow underground. They're two of the healthiest foods you can grow, they're less susceptible to damage from hungry animals, and they can sit patiently in the earth for quite a while after they ripen. Onions are ready for harvest when they push their tops out of the ground. Garlic heads can be pulled when their long above-ground greens die down.
All salad greens are a great choice for the beginning gardener. Line up red and green lettuce, romaine, iceburg, kale and spinach. All the leafy greens are cool weather crops, so plant them early in spring and harvest before it gets too warm. Watch your plants for critters, especially aphids, worms, beetles, slugs, and weevils. Keep your garden organic by avoiding pesticides and insecticides. Instead, introduce natural predators like ladybugs, use neem oil on plants, and create a stinky mixture of water, onion, garlic, and dish soap to spray on affected plants.
Tomatoes are an amazing plant-it-and-forget-it option for the home gardener. Although they do require regular deep watering, they are happy to simmer to a plump fullness without a lot of intervention. Buy well-established plants and go for a variety, including early and late season options like cherry, beefsteak, roma, and plum. If you want to plant a salsa garden, go with romas, along with garlic, onion, jalapeno peppers and, later in the season so it doesn’t bolt in the heat, cilantro. Be warned, once tomatoes are ripe, it’s time to process or use them quickly. Fortunately, tomatoes don’t have to be pressure cooked, so they can be processed in a simple water bath (like jam), which allows you to can a winter’s worth of salsa, tomato sauce, pizza sauce, and even ketchup or bbq sauce.
Have you ever been to an office break room when a coworker is all but begging people to take home some cucumbers? That’s because they are easy to grow and prolific in nature. If you end up with more than you can eat, you can always turn them into pickles as a long-term storage solution.
It’s easy and fun to grow your own pumpkins. Simply create a mound of dirt. Ideally the ground should be rich in nutrients, but pumpkins are pretty forgiving of soil conditions. Plant a few seeds on each mound and wait a few months, watering one to three times each week (depending on the weather). Make sure you allow ample room for your pumpkins, since they are ramblers. You can leave them on the vine or cut them off as Halloween gets closer and you prepare to carve. Be aware that pumpkins will make appealing targets for squirrels, crows, and raccoons, so if you have those in your area, you may want to take steps to protect your crop. Building a mesh tent covering can be effective, if you cover the whole planting area.
The most challenging thing about growing green beans is making sure they are supported as they grow. Bush and string beans should both be staked up for support. Otherwise, the plant will lay on the ground. To grow, simply place your plant in organic, nutrient-rich soil, water regularly, and wait for green beans to appear. The pods will be ready for harvest around 50-60 days later, when they're four to seven inches long and a bit thicker than a pencil.
Zucchini is another rambling plant that does well with little supervision. Find a sunny spot and enrich your soil with some compost. Zucchini likes warm weather, so hold off planting until daytime temps are regularly over 70 degrees. Zucchini is a prolific plant. To avoid a giant pile of twisting stems, stagger planting times so they don’t all produce at once. Each plant can provide six to 10 pounds of fruit. Make sure to fertilize your plants throughout the season.