Top 10 Easiest Varieties to Grow by Season

When starting a garden, the options are many. Where to begin? Our experienced gardeners have pulled together the top fruits and veggies (in order of season) we’d suggest.

eastereggradishRadishes – Fall/Winter

Very easy to grow , takes barely a month between sowing seeds and harvest. Seriously. Seeds can be sown every week (even through summer.) The three main types are: round, long and daikon.

Zukeeni’s favorites:

Easter Egg are a mix of pastels, with a zesty crispness

French Breakfast have a somewhat milder spicy flavor

Salad Greens – Winter

There’s nothing tastier than a salad harvested from your own garden. Crispy romaine, soft butter, or fresh baby greens, all are delicious. Pick a favorite or plant all… your salad awaits.

Most popular varieties:

Sweetie Baby Romaine is a fast producer

Rocky Top Lettuce Mix is a great mix of flavors

Green Beans – Winter/Fall

Green beans are easy to grow, harvest and eat! Pole beans grow up walls and fences, perfect for small spaces. Bush beans are shorter, more compact, but provide aplenty.

Best bets:

Blue Lake for tender beans with good flavor

Rolande for a delicate flavor for special dishes

Swiss Chard – Winter

Loaded with vitamins A, K, & C, this is a “nearly-perfect” vegetable. The baby greens are tender enough for salads and its mature leaves can be sautéed or added to soups. It’s not bitter and ideal for “cut-and-come-again” gardening. In temperate climates, it can survive for years.  BREAKING: Swiss Chard, upgraded to perfect!

Zukeeni suggests these:

Rainbow Bright Lights for a fun, colorful plant

Italian Silver Rib for large, flavorful leaves

Borage – Spring

Borage is a favorite. Its beautiful, edible flowers bloom all summer long. It attracts bees (pollinators) and its flavor is mild, think cucumber. Use in salads or as a garnish for cocktails.

Blue Borage is most common, but can also be found in white and pink, how civilized.

tomatoesonvineTomatoes – Summer

There are so many varieties of tomatoes, you’ll never taste them all. #bummer We’re sorry, but no matter what your climate, you’ll be able to find several that grow well. #silverlining

All-Around Pleasers:

Sungold for the sweetest cherry tomatoes

Brandywine for a great slice tomato

Amish Paste for rich tomato sauce

Basil – Summer

Basil got big in the ‘90s. Everyone realized how great it tastes in Italian food. It’s an easy-growing herb and produces all summer long. Use in salads, soups, baked dishes, so many options.

Genovese for the best pesto dishes

Cinnamon for a spicy flavor in salads

Thai Sweet for Asian dishes

strawberryplantStrawberries – Summer

If you’ve ever tasted a homegrown strawberry, the store bought variety will be dead to you. They’re easy to grow, grow pretty much anywhere and once you taste one… trust us.

Chandlers are super sweet

Mingonettes are heat-tolerant

Yellow Wonder Wilds are unique and delicious

 

 

Peppers – Summer

The “spice of life”. Whether you prefer sweet peppers or those with a bite, they’re a must in your garden. They love the summer heat and make a difference in any salad or a kabob.

Rainbow Bell Mix for a colorful assortment

Sweet Banana for salads and grilling

Jalapeño for pizzas and spicy dishes

Summer Squash – Three guesses

Summer squash grows fast and provides delicious fruit all summer. If picked young, it’s tender with a delicate flavor– perfect for grilling, sautéing and stuffing. Sliced thinly, it’s lovely in a salad. Plants can be grown up a trellis or fence, you tell it what to do.

Ronde de Nice for cute little globes

Summer Scallop Trio for UFOs and pattypans

Black Beauty for the classic zucchini

Strawberry Spinach

Strawberry Spinach

If you think that strawberry spinach (Chenopodium capitatum) is going to be a vegetable your kids will love, you are probably in for a disappointment. The name is somewhat unfortunate as it really has no connection to strawberries at all (unless you include the rather tenuous one that it produces red berries). Another name for it is Beetberry, which is somewhat more logical as it’s in the beet family and produces berries. It’s also known as Strawberry Blite, Strawberry Goosefoot, and Indian Ink.

When approaching this plant it’s best to ignore the strawberry and concentrate on the spinach, as the young leaves are a good substitute for that plant (it is actually a relative), either cooked or raw. You can eat the sweetish berries in salads, but I find they add more visual appeal than taste. Native Americans used them to dye skin, clothes and basket material and apparently they can also be used as red food coloring, though I haven’t tried this. Like spinach it contains oxalic acid and so should be eaten in moderation, or it can interfere with the absorption of calcium.

Strawberry spinach is native to North America and grows wild across all of the northern part of the continent. The cultivated plant is essentially the same as the wild one and so needs little care (it often self-sows and grows itself). It is more heat tolerant than spinach, but it is an annual and will eventually bolt. Unlike with spinach this isn’t a bad thing, as it then produces the edible red berries.

This plant has been cultivated at various times, but has never been very widely grown. It’s now enjoying something of a resurgence, as it is easy to grow and quite ornamental when in full growth (but becomes less so when you’re eating it). It grows best in moist soil with full sun and reaches a height of 1 to 3 feet. In mild winter areas you will get a longer harvest season by planting it in fall — it will grow right through the winter. If you try it be aware that some people complain that it self-sows too freely and becomes a serious pest.

Spring Vegetables

Spring Vegetables

So you’ve got your soil ready, it’s finally warm enough, and now you’re thinking about what to plant. It’s tempting to start planting all those great seeds you bought over the winter, but it’s best to take a moment and consider what weather conditions each plant needs to germinate and thrive. Each plant has an appropriate time to be planted, and it’s important to be aware of which plants can go out at what time.

The vegetables that grow well in spring all originated in temperate climates and prefer cool (50-75˚ F) growing conditions. When you first plant your spring crops, the soil and air are cool and days are fairly short, so crops germinate and grow slowly. As spring progresses the days lengthen and the weather gradually warms, until by the time most crops are ready to harvest it may be warm most of the time. Fall has cool weather too, but there the reverse is true, conditions are warm for seed germination and growth (and pest activity), while maturation takes place in cooler weather.

When to plant
It is important to get your spring crops into the ground as early as possible, so they have enough time to grow and mature before the long, warm days of early summer cause them to bolt or develop bitter or pungent flavors. Fortunately cool weather crops aren’t perturbed by minor cold snaps, so planting them early isn’t a big problem. If it is cold they will just sit and wait until the weather warms up enough for growth.

  • The hardiest crops can be planted as soon as the ground is suitable for making beds in spring, which may be 4 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. These plants include: leek, onion, parsley, pea, spinach, and shallot.
  • The slightly less hardy crops can be sown 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost date. These include: lettuce, cilantro, mustard, and radish.
  • The rest of the spring crops are sown a couple of weeks before last frost date. These include: beet, carrot, broccoli, cabbage, chard, kale, and potato.

 

Smart Gardener makes it easy
We show you quickly and easily when it’s the right time to start your seeds indoors or outdoors, based on your region. Just check the Overview tab in the variety descriptions, and you’ll see when to start your seeds, transplant your starts, and harvest your vegetables. The top lines are for spring/summer crops, and the bottom lines are for fall/winter. Easy as can be!

Sugar Snap Peas

Sugar Snap Peas

Have you considered growing peas? Looking for something to feed your sweet tooth, straight from the garden? Look no further than the Sugar Snap pea. There’s a reason they’re called “garden candy.”

The Sugar Snap is actually a relative newcomer to the garden (first introduced in 1979), but it is now established as one of the great treats of spring. When my Sugar Snaps start to ripen they become the center of the garden and remain so until all the pods are gone.

The Sugar Snap differs from traditional garden peas (like Green Arrow) in that the whole pod is edible, and differs from the edible podded snow peas (like Mammoth Melting) in that the pod is fat, sweet and succulent. As the whole pod is edible they produce a significantly bigger harvest and don’t need shelling. The original Sugar Snap variety was so successful it eventually spawned a whole range of snap peas: bush varieties, disease resistant types and some without strings. There are now even yellow, purple and pink tinted types.

The Sugar Snap was hailed as a revolutionary new kind of pea when it appeared, but it wasn’t actually as new as it seemed at the time. It turns out that the Amish have been growing snap peas for a long time and they are so similar that a casual observer probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Should I grow peas?
Peas (along with beans) have a special place in the vegetable garden because they are host to nitrogen fixing bacteria and so can add fertility to the soil as they grow. This won’t happen unless the right type of bacteria is present in the soil though, so if you haven’t grown peas within the last five years you should inoculate the seed with a suitable strain of inoculant.

The real flavor of Snap peas comes through best when they are eaten raw and this is how almost all of ours get eaten. My children will eat them straight from the vine all day long and few pods actually make it as far as the kitchen (their friends have been known to strip a planting of all pods of any significant size). They are also good when very lightly steamed, but don’t cook them for more than a couple of minutes, or they may turn to mush.

Tips on growing great peas

  • Air Temperature – Peas thrive in cool weather and don’t like heat, with 60-75˚ F being optimal. They are fully hardy and the first planting can be sown directly into the garden in early spring, a month before the last frost date.
  • Soil Temperature – The soil doesn’t even have to be very warm, as they will germinate (if rather slowly) at temperatures as low as 40˚ F.
  • Succession Planting – It is a good idea to make several succession plantings about 3 weeks apart, to ensure an abundant supply of pods until the weather gets too warm.
  • Weeding – The established plants don’t require much care. Weeds can be a problem for the young seedlings, but they soon outgrow and overshadow any weeds.
  • Watering – They do need regular moisture, but in early spring there is usually plenty in the soil and you rarely need to water.


Set up

The original Sugar Snap is a pole variety and must have a tall support structure for good growth (hog wire fence works well). If it isn’t tall enough they will eventually run out of climbing room and flop over (when my dad first grew them in England they went right over the top of his 6 foot high wall and started supplying his neighbor with pods). It is a good idea to set up your supports before you plant, as it’s easy to damage the fragile seedlings. If you don’t want to deal with such a tall plant there are now bush varieties, such as Sugar Ann.

It is easier to provide support for the plants when they are growing in rows, so they are commonly planted in double offset rows with 3” between the plants and 6” between the rows. If you need more than one double row, then leave 24” between the pairs of rows. You can also wrap hog wire fence into a cylinder and plant in a circle around it (this looks quite ornamental when fully covered, though not for long). Established plants grow vigorously and quickly produce a wall of foliage 6 to 8 feet high, which makes an attractive (though temporary) screen.

Pests
The biggest obstacle to growing Snap Peas is getting them established. It’s not that they are hard to germinate (this is easy) but rather that birds like to eat the succulent green parts and often pull the emerging seedlings out of the ground. The best way to prevent this is to cover the whole bed with netting. Mice can sometimes be a problem too, as they sometimes dig and eat the seed before it has even germinated. If they are a problem you might have to start your plants indoors, though they dislike transplanting, so must be grown in individual cell packs (and not kept indoors for too long).

Harvest
The pods mature quickly after pollination and you need to check and harvest the plants regularly (every day or so). Harvest the pods when they are fat and round and sweet to taste. Don’t harvest too early or they won’t be as good as they can be. It is important to pick all of the pods as they size up, if you leave some on the vine the seed will mature and production may decline (if this happens save the seed for planting next year). In cool weather, a well managed planting may yield for 6 weeks or more, though if the weather turns hot it may be as short as 2 weeks.

Starting the Winter Garden

Starting the Winter Garden

One of the simplest ways to keep the garden producing at full volume is to make sure it is full of growing crops at all times. After you harvest the first of the summer crops, you will often have time to plant more of them (and should), but you should also start thinking about the fall and winter garden. Winter crops need to do most of their growth before cold weather and short days arrive and slow them down. The almost mature plants will then continue to grow slowly (if the winter is mild), or sit in the garden in an edible state until harvested (if the winter is cold).

Planning the winter garden starts with choosing suitable hardy crops, which would include Asian Greens, Beet, Broccoli, Brussels Sprout, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Collards, Chicory, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leek, Lettuce, Parsnip, Rutabaga, Spinach, Turnip and more. You also have to choose the right varieties for winter growing, as there can be considerable variation within a crop. You want cultivars bred to tolerate cold temperatures and short day length.

The right time to start your winter crops depends upon where you live, but generally you can start planting the slower maturing crops, such as leeks, parsnips, celery and Brussel sprouts in mid-summer (July). Transplants of broccoli and cabbage can be started in August for planting in the garden through September. Quicker maturing vegetables, such as turnips and kohlrabi may be planted through mid-October. Generally if you’re your garden isn’t super fertile it’s best to start all of these earlier rather than later. If plants are too small when winter arrives they will just sit in the garden looking pathetic and embarrassing. When spring comes they will resume growing for a week or two and then bolt.

When you open up large areas of bed by harvesting, it makes sense to use the first of them for direct sown crops such as carrot or parsnip that can’t be grown from transplants. At this time of year the bare soil of a seed bed will dry out very quickly, so it’s a good idea to cover it with shade cloth. This keeps it cooler and moister and reduces the need for watering. I like to go even further and cover slow germinating crops like carrot or parsnip with a sheet of cardboard or plywood until just before I expect germination to occur (this also keeps weeds down). Cool weather crops often don’t germinate well at high temperatures, so if a period of cool weather is forecast I try and take advantage of it and get sowing.

Where possible I like to grow winter crops as transplants, as I can get them growing while the garden beds are still occupied; no need to wait for vacant space. You can start the transplants in the greenhouse if it’s not too hot (some cool weather crops won’t germinate if the temperature is too high), but it is usually warm enough to start them outside too. You can simply grow them in flats on a table covered in bird netting, though they will need frequent watering, as containers dry out rapidly. You could also use a specially designated nursery bed, which is simply an area of bed with good soil and covered with bird netting.

For those of us in the milder parts of the country the winter garden is often just as important as the summer garden and this is a crucial time of year. If you miss the window for getting your plants established, you won’t have a winter garden.

The Winter Vegetable Garden

The Winter Vegetable Garden

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, many gardeners move indoors for the winter. But for those of us who live in a mild climate where we can grow late autumn and winter crops, we can keep right on growing as long as we pick the right crops, get them in the ground early enough and provide them with the proper protection.

Crop Selection

Some cool weather crops are much better suited to growing in autumn than in spring. Often by the time it’s warm enough for plants to mature in spring, longer days will cause short-day crops (spinach and oriental cabbage) to bolt. The warm temperatures adversely affect their flavor as well. If you plant these crops in late summer, they’ll grow quickly to start and then mature more slowly in the shorter colder days that follow.

For cold weather growing, stick to the tried and true hardy crops:

•    Broccoli
•    Brussels Sprouts
•    Cabbage
•    Carrot
•    Cauliflower
•    Chard
•    Citrust
•    Cornsalad
•    Horseradish
•    Kale
•    Jerusalem Artichoke
•    Leek
•    Mustard Greens
•    Parsnip
•    Turnips

It is important to use the right crop variety at this time of year, as hardiness varies considerably within a crop.

When to Plant

Fall and mild winter crops commonly take longer to mature because the sun is weaker and the days are shorter. To determine the right time to plant a fall crop, figure out the number of days it takes for it to reach maturation (adding extra days to allow for slower growth in autumn). Then determine the day you want them to mature (in areas with frost, this is normally just before the weather turns too cold for good growth). Subtract the number of growing days from the maturation date and you have the sowing date.

It’s a good idea to plant a few successions at this time to make sure you get at least one crop before the frosts and possibly more if the frost is later than expected. If you rarely have frosts, you may be able to continue growing these crops through the winter.

Where to Plant

The beds for winter crops should receive all of the sunlight they can get, so make sure they won’t be shaded. A south-facing slope is the best choice as it gets extra heat from the sun. You might shape your shape winter beds so they tilt slightly to the south to give them a little extra solar gain.

The beds should be well protected from cold winds. Don’t plant the winter garden in a low-lying area, as it might be a frost pocket and much colder than a more elevated slope. The soil should also be well drained, as dampness is often as great as enemy of winter plants as cold is (much of the value of cloches and cold frames is due to their protecting plants from moisture).

Season Extension

The simplest season extending technique is to protect the tender crops from the first occasional autumn frosts. If protected, the plants can sit in the cold garden in an edible state for weeks before having to be harvested. The hardiest autumn/winter crops will continue bearing until temperatures drop down into the 20’s.

The first frost may be followed by several weeks of good growing weather before the next one, so the simple act of covering your plants for a night or two may reward you with several more weeks of harvests.

A quick freeze will do a lot more damage to plants than a gradual decline in temperature (which gradually hardens them off). Happily you can get advance warning of an oncoming frost and act to protect your plants. Almost anything will give protection from a light frost:

•    cloches
•    cold frames
•    old blankets
•    row covers
•    plastic sheeting
•    hay or straw mulch

Cold frames and cloches can even protect plants from more severe frosts. Tall plants such as tomatoes can be unstaked and laid down on the ground for easier protection.

If your unprotected plants are hit by an unexpected frost you may be able to revive them by washing the frost off with a spray of water. This must be done before the sun hits them and thaws them out too quickly. You can also follow the example of commercial citrus farmers and leave a slow sprinkler going all night (don’t turn it off until all ice has melted). But this wastes a lot of water.

You should protect the tender crops for as long as there is good growth in the daytime. It isn’t worth protecting them once the days get cold, as they won’t thrive. It is better to replace them with hardy crops. Or maybe you do want to take a break for a month or two and hibernate. If you’ve been diligent and canned, dried or frozen some of your earlier harvests, you can enjoy the fruits of your own garden until you’re ready to start preparing again for the spring.

Cabbage

Cabbage

I was first introduced to cooked cabbage on a beach on Orcas Island in Puget Sound, where a friend sautéed it in a black iron skillet over an open fire. It was the only accompaniment to fresh barbecued oysters and, with its deep purple color was not only visually dramatic but surprisingly delicious. A vegetable I had  considered peasant fare took on a new status that afternoon and has stayed on my list of favorite vegetables ever since.

Cabbage may still not be the vegetable that entices you into organic gardening. It’s not graceful like the climbing pea plant or dramatic like the artichoke. But it’s an ideal crop for so many reasons. It is easy to grow and store, rich in vitamin C and several cancer preventing phytochemicals, high yielding, hardy (late varieties will survive temperatures down to 20˚ F) and can be harvested in cold weather after most other crops are finished.

If you live in a mild climate and have a nice crop of late season cabbage going in your garden now, you can let mature plants stand right through the winter in good condition. In fact, it is easier to leave them in the garden until you need them, protecting them with mulch if necessary.

Harvesting Cabbage

You can begin harvesting the first cabbage heads as soon as they are big and solid enough to provide a meal. Harvest by cutting through the base of the stem with a knife. Remove the roots after harvest, and compost or burn them to help prevent the buildup of disease. Then look to our blog for new ways to enjoy this versatile vegetable.

If a mature head begins to crack (this may be caused by excess nitrogen, aging or irregular water supply) harvest and use it promptly. The cracking won’t affect its edibility, but it does affect its storage life.

If too many Cabbages are maturing at once, you can slow their growth by cutting through some of their roots with a spade. You can also twist the head a quarter turn, to break some of the roots.