Gardening offers many joys.
There’s the cascade of colourful floral blooms which, done right, can bring vibrant flourishes to your garden year-round. There’s the gentle buzz of bees and flutter of butterflies as they survey the scene, eyeing up any particularly appealing sources of pollen. There are the smells – of flowers, leaves, cut grass, and the general outdoors. And, sometimes, there’s the blue skies and bright sunshine that practically demand you pull up a comfy chair and just relax.
Then, when you start to think about growing things you can eat, you open up a whole new layer of garden satisfaction. Instead of just looking at the beautiful colours and shapes, you can start to plan a delicious harvest. A whole new set of smells appear, as well as the new sensations of handling seeds, feeling soft soil run through your fingers, and picking hearty vegetables from the ground.
Gathering your first harvest is one of the most rewarding parts of being a gardener. Seeing each subsequent harvest improve in size and quality is just as good, and it’s a feeling you get to re-experience every year.
If all this sounds delightfully inviting, then read on. We’ve pulled together seven of the easiest vegetables to grow at home, to give you the opportunity to create your own bountiful harvest.
The easiest vegetables to grow at home: Our selection criteria
As well as being easy to grow, we’ve tried to ensure that all the plants in this list meet a few other criteria. Each should –
- Have cheap seeds: Growing your own produce needn’t be expensive, so we’ve gone for veggies whose seeds won’t break the bank.
- Be readily available: We don’t want you to have to hunt around specialist stores to find the seeds, either. All the seeds for the crops in this list are easy to get hold of.
- Be low-maintenance: As a general rule you can plant these crops and not have to think about them too much until they’re ready to harvest. There’ll be a little bit of weeding, but nothing too demanding.
- Require no specialist gear: Aside from a trellis for the beans, you won’t need any expensive or esoteric gear to get these vegetables growing.
- Useful in many delicious recipes: Let’s face it; the main reason to grow vegetables is to subsequently eat the vegetables. So we’ve prioritised produce that’s tasty, versatile, and easy to prepare.
Now that’s out the way, let’s move onto our list of easy to grow vegetables.
“Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew…” Samwise Gamgee, unsung hero of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, knew about the versatility of potatoes. This crop can be used in hundreds of different ways, whether as a sidekick or centrepiece. It’s a staple in cuisines around the globe, and for good reason.
What’s more, growing potatoes couldn’t be simpler –
- Choose a sunny spot that won’t get hit by late frosts (potatoes are sensitive to frost damage!).
- Plant out your spuds at the right time for the variety: First earlies in late March, second earlies up to mid-April, and maincrops from mid-April onwards.
- Dig compost through the soil in advance of planting, ideally at the end of the previous season.
- Plant them in a trench about 10-12cm deep, and space them out according to variety: Earlies about 30cm apart, maincrops about 35-40. Leave about 60cm between rows for earlies and 75cm for maincrops.
- Harvest your potatoes between June and October, depending on the variety. First earlies, June – July; seconds, July – August; maincrops, late August to October.
- To store potatoes, leave them in the ground until the foliage yellows, trim it down, leave for 10 days, then harvest. Dry them out indoors, then put them in storage.
There are many types of tomatoes to choose from, ranging from miniature cherry tomatoes, right up to unbelievably big beef tomatoes. They fall into two categories, too: Cordon and bush. Cordon tomatoes need staking to support their vertical growth, while bush tomatoes grow as you’d expect: In a bush.
For best results –
- Whack your tomato seeds in some compost pots, and cover with a plastic bag. Keep them there until two leave shave sprouted.
- When they start to flower, transplant the seeds into larger pots, grow bags, or into the ground. (Harden off your tomatoes if you’re growing them outdoors, and leave about 50cm between them).
- For indoor tomatoes, sow from February to March. For outdoors, sow from March to April.
- Outdoor tomatoes like a sunny spot.
- If you’re growing cordon tomatoes, put a sturdy cane or trellis in the ground, and use cloth ties to attach the main stem. This will support the plant and encourage good growth.
- Keep your tomatoes well-watered! They’re thirsty plants, and will do best when kept moist.
- Harvest your tomatoes when they’re ripe, then keep them in a warm, dark spot to ripen more.
Will they help you to see in the dark? No. Will you have a bounty of fresh, crunchy, deliciousness, though? Resoundingly yes.
Carrots are one of our favourite things to grow, just because of how effortless and plentiful they are. Here’s what you need to do to join the fun –
- Find an open spot in your garden with lots of sun, where the soil can drain well. If you’ve got stones or other detritus in your soil, go for short-rooted varieties, unless you’re happy with carrots with lots of bumps and funny shapes.
- Like potatoes, carrots are either earlies or maincrops. Sow earlies in February or March, and maincrops from April to July.
- Pop seeds a centimetre or so into the ground, and keep at least 15cm between rows. Try to get about 5-7cm between each seed, to give all your carrots the space they need to grow.
- Carrots are nowhere near as thirsty as tomatoes, so you only really need to water during dry periods.
- Be vigilant with your weeding: Carrots can quickly get suffocated under particularly enthusiastic weeds.
- If you’re being bothered by flies, surround your carrots with gauze or some similar barrier.
- Look to harvest your carrots 3-4 months after planting. Pick them when they’re big enough to use, and don’t leave them in the ground much longer after that as you risk losing flavour.
This is a strangely divisive vegetable. Put beetroot on some people’s plates and they’ll flat-out refuse to eat it, which is, in our opinion, sacrilege. If you’re one of the converted who sees beetroot as a vegetable with a lot to offer, then join us in growing a few in your garden.
Here’s how to do it –
- Choose a spot in your garden that can drain well, and work some compost through the soil ahead of planting.
- Plant out your beetroot seeds in clusters of three, with 10cm between them. Push them about 2cm into the soil, and leave about 30cm between rows.
- After your seedlings sprout, thin out the clusters of three so that each individual seedling has about 10cm between. (If this sounds like too much work, just plant them out individually from the outset).
- Water fortnightly if the weather is particularly dry.
- One of the best things about beetroots is that you can stagger planting through the planting season (March to May), meaning you’ll have a staggered harvest at harvest season!
- Pick your beetroots when they’re between 5-8cm. If you pick alternating beetroots, you’ll give the ones in the ground a little more space to grow.
5. Runner beans
Whether or not you believe them to be a magical fruit, beans are definitely an appealing addition to your garden. Seeing them strive magnificently upward from the ground is always a pleasure, and their bountiful annual harvest guarantees beans for days.
Here’s what you need to do to grow them –
- If you want to grow them in spring, start them off indoors. Beans do not tolerate frosts: You’ll need a propagator or a pot on a windowsill, and to harden off each plant before eventually planting out.
- If you’re happy waiting until after the frosts, expect to sow from late May onwards.
- Start your outdoor beans in pots, in a sheltered spot in your garden.
- When they’re just shy of 10cm tall, move them into the ground – expect to do this in June onward. This spot should be sunlit and warm, with well-draining soil.
- Beans need support to help them grow, so erect a bamboo A-frame for them to climb. Use loose ties to attach stems to frame: Anything too tight will restrict growth.
- When your beans are about 15cm long, they’re ready to harvest. Try to harvest before the internal beans begin to grow, as this is when the flavour is best.
- Picking too late also prevents the plants from flowering, and means you won’t get any more beans that season.
Chard is another unsung hero of gardening, and another veggie that can put off the uninitiated. These bright green leaves streaked with purple, though, work wonders in myriad recipes. Whether you’re a fan of chard looking to grow your own, or a sceptic bravely looking to try something new, we’re sure you’ll enjoy growing this crop in your garden.
Here’s how to grow chard:
- Find an open and sunlit spot in your garden. Some shade is OK, but there needs to be sun for most of the day.
- Work some compost through the soil at the end of the season before you plan to plant out your chard.
- Sow your chard seeds about an inch deep, about 10cm apart, and in rows at least 40cm apart. Optimal sowing season is from March to July, with March chard ready to harvest that autumn, and July chard ready to harvest next spring.
- If it looks like drought is setting in, water your chard generously.
- Cover July plantings for winter, either under cloches, fleece, or similar.
- To harvest, simply cut away the outer leaves when they’re mature. Leaves will regrow, giving you access to plenty of chard throughout the season.
Where would we be without the onion? This humble vegetable sits at the heart of pretty much any recipe you can think of, providing a flavour base that all the other ingredients build upon. We think there’s no better way to celebrate the enduring versatility of the onion by growing your own crop, and opening up the full vibrancy of their flavour. Once you try an onion from your garden, you’ll never buy them from the supermarket again.
- Most people grow onions from sets rather than seeds. This is quicker and easier.
- Find a sunny and sheltered spot with well-draining soil. Avoid acidic soil where possible.
- Dig compost through the soil ahead of growing to give your onions optimal nutrition.
- Plant out your sets with at least 10cm between them, in rows at least 30cm apart. You can sow in March and April, or again in September.
- When the shoots above ground start to discolour and wilt, your onions are ready to harvest. Expect this to happen from late summer in your spring crop, or in June for your September crop.
- Pick your onions, then leave them somewhere outdoors to dry and ripen (make sure it’s a sheltered and well-ventilated spot!)
A little more inspiration
Don’t be fooled into thinking the list above is exhaustive – far from it! For those of you excited about growing your own produce, there’s a ton of other options to explore. Here’s a small sample –
- Jerusalem artichoke: An unsung hero of many delicious recipes. Artichokes get bad press because they can be tricky to prepare, but their sumptuous flavours make them more than worth getting acquainted with.
- Salsify: If you’ve ever watched Masterchef: The Professionals, you’ll know that the presence of salsify on a plate signals class and sophistication.
- Asparagus: A powerhouse of fine dining, asparagus makes a great addition to any plate where you’d normally use a broccoli garnish.
- Courgettes: Some consider them to be bland, but used correctly, courgettes can bring a measured and delicious element to your cooking. They’re very versatile, too, featuring in cuisines from all over the world.
- Cucumbers: Similar to courgettes but different enough to be interesting, fresh-grown cucumbers have unparalleled flavour when compared to their store-bought cousins.
- Peppers: Whether you like them green, yellow, orange, red, or even purple, peppers are easy to grow and go well in hundreds of different recipes.
- Turnips: A British staple for centuries, whose prominence has now been usurped by more exciting vegetables brought over from foreign shores.
- Fennel: An unusual flavour but one that rewards the curious chef. Fennel is great raw or cooked, and will add a bit of je ne sais quoi to any dish.
- Shallots: Onion’s smaller sibling, packing a sweeter and more refined flavour. Perfect for any dish where onion would overpower.
- Chillies: Do you like it hot? Then grow a chilli plant, and guarantee yourself an endless supply of these spicy boys.
We have to stop there, but there are so many more veggies to get familiar with if you’ve caught the home-growing bug. Just make sure to keep in mind the amount of space you have available!
Get ready to enjoy your harvest!
Whew – there you have it. Seven delightful veggies to get you started with your home-grown gardening adventures. Whether you opt for these easy to grow options, or decide on something a little more “out there”, we’re sure you’ll have a great (and tasty) time.