University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
If you're just starting gardening,
or have been gardening and had some failures, or even if you've been
a while but are short on time this year, consider this list of a dozen
easy-to-grow popular vegetables. Keep in
mind that you should enjoy eating it to grow it!
The most popular vegetable to grow
is the tomato. Decide if you want determinate
tomatoes--those that stop growing
when they produce fruit, or indeterminate types--those that keep
growing. Determinate types usually mature earlier
(good for short seasons in the north) and with less fruit, and need
staking. Dwarf tomatoes are compact,
good for containers, and just produce fruit all at once. Tomatoes
now come in various colors if you
want something different. Look for
varieties with some resistance to common tomato diseases.
Peppers are becoming more popular
with many new varieties, both sweet and hot types. There is a
rainbow of colors too,
literally. The hot ones are great in
salsa. The sweet or bell types can be
stuffed, or diced and fried, or grilled.
Peppers are short, so good for small spaces and containers. As with
tomatoes, peppers like warm temperatures so should be planted later.
are generally started indoors in early spring, or bought as small
There are three "root
crops", or those with underground edible parts, that are easy.
Carrots are sown from seeds early, even
before the last frost. Sow in intervals
to have crops all season, especially in fall.
There are many types, based on their shape. Some are
baby-sized when mature, others you
can just harvest young.
Onions are most easily purchased in
a bundle of small plants, called "sets", ready to plant out and grow
on. If purchasing locally you'll be sure
to get varieties suited for your climate, and in particular daylength,
are certain varieties better suited for the longer days in the north.
also consider the easy onion relatives of leeks, shallots, and garlic.
Potatoes are not on many top ten
lists, but they are one of the easiest, and come in many novelty and
varieties you wont find in stores.
Another reason to grow them yourself is that store potatoes are one of
the crops rated in the "Dirty Dozen" list for having the highest
levels of pesticide residues (along with spinach and peppers). You buy
spring as "seed potatoes"-- tubers ready to sprout that you cut in
large pieces and plant. As they grow, just hill up soil around them, or
low in a large container and as they grow add more soil.
Probably the easiest vegetable to
grow, the one given to children to start, is beans. Often called
green beans, some varieties are
yellow. Some produce vines, so need a
trellis, others are "bush" types and remain compact. Just sow
directly in the garden when the soil
is warm, and be careful. A few bean
plants can produce lots of beans.
Peas are another favorite on many
lists. Traditionally they grow as vines,
so need a trellis, and produce pods with peas inside. Now there
are varieties that grow low as
bushes. Those with the tough pods and
peas inside that need shelling out are the English peas, and although
time-consuming to shell. The snap pea
also has peas inside, but its pod is edible.
Then there are the flat snow peas, harvested before the peas inside
form, and eaten for their edible pods.
Peas are sown early, or in late season, as they grow best in cool
Two favorite and easy vegetables,
cucumbers and squash, are produced commonly on vines. If short on
space, look for varieties that
are "bush" types making large mounds.
Both these crops like heat, so sow seeds in the garden when the soil
The two main types of cucumbers are
the short, spiny pickling ones and the larger, smooth-skinned and dark
slicers. The latter are what you usually
see in grocery stores. You can eat the
pickling ones too. The bush types take
less space, but produce fewer fruits.
Zucchini is listed separately on
some lists, but it is actually a type of summer squash. Other
types are the yellow, straight or
crookneck varieties. There are other
varieties of summer squash with green or white skins and scallop
shapes. Summer squash usually mature in about 2
months, compared to about 3 months for the winter squash. The
latter are called this as they store well
in a cool space into winter. There are
various winter squashes based on their shape.
Lettuce is on most easy-to-grow
lists, but if you like them you should try other leafy greens as
well. Some of these favorites are spinach, Swiss
chard, and specialty greens. There are
four main types of lettuce to choose from-- crisphead, loose-head,
and romaine. Although those with green leaves are most common, some
have burgundy too. Decide if you want
ones with smooth, frilled, or deeply-cut leaves. These crops like
it cool, so sow early, and
pick anytime--you don't have to wait for them to mature. They're
great in containers.
With all these crops, northern
gardeners in particular should pay attention to "days to maturity" on
varieties if nothing else. This is the
time from seeding, or in some cases planting out, until the first
ripe. Figure the number of days after
your last frost day, and make sure you'll either be around and not on
when they ripen, or that they will ripen before first fall frost. Don't
these frost dates? There are many online
resources for finding them in your area, or check with your local
Extension office, or master gardener program.