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Easy To Grow Vegetables For First Time Gardener, Part Two

In part one of Easy To Grow Vegetables For First Time Gardener, I explain how to grow lettuce, kale, and potatoes (grown in mulch). A beginning gardener should start slowly and small if they want success, if they want to feel competent in their gardening endeavors. And those three crops make success with growing your own food an easy achievement.

Which vegetables should you try growing once you’ve got those three down? How about beans, cherry tomatoes, Egyptian (walking) onions, squash, and cucumbers?

Remember that the soil should be enriched with organic material before you begin. And, except for the onions, all of the crops I’m going to discuss in this article require six hours of sun per day.

Also except for the onions, they will be killed by even a slight freeze (frost tender), so plant them out a week or two after the last average frost date for your area.

Beans

Bush beans. Pole beans. Chinese long beans. Dried beans.

There is a variety of bean for everyone, and none of them require much more than proper watering, correct spacing, and a little pest control to get them producing so much that you risk getting tired of picking beans! They also are beneficial to the garden soil, as well. Legume plants – namely, beans, peas and lentils – fix nitrogen into the soil, helping feed the other plants growing near them.

I’m going to focus on green beans here, though the principles of growing them generally apply to all types of beans.

First of all, in my experience it’s easier to grow bush beans in the north, and pole beans in the South. Pole beans seem to take the heat a little better, and I haven’t had the pest problems on my pole beans as I have with bush beans.

Pole bean plant growing up PVC pipe attached to SIP bed.

That said, I’ve read that you can prevent the Mexican bean beetle on bush beans and the Colorado potato beetle on potatoes if you interplant bush beans and potatoes together. That’s an experiment I’ll be trying either this fall or next spring.

If  you’re using the Square Foot Garden method of spacing, the SFG gurus will tell you that you can plant nine bush beans in a square foot. In my experience, that’s too many. Four or five per square foot allows the plants much more room to breathe, and diminishes their risk of getting a fungal disease (which, by the way, I don’t think I’ve ever seen on my pole beans).

If you’re planting pole beans, they need something at least six feet long to climb up. A cheap and easy thing to do would be to push short sticks into the ground, three or four inches apart, then on each stick, tie one end of a six-foot long piece of string. Pull the string tightly at an upward slope and tie the other end to the top of a fence post, tree branch, or trellis that you’re using to support other vegetables. The pole beans will wind themselves around the string as they grow.

Otherwise, stick some kind of six-foot-tall pole in the ground, one per bean. Space the poles three to four inches apart and plant each bean seed right next to the pole.

Most beans require regular watering. When the top two inches of soil are dry, they need water. This isn’t true for all beans, however. For example, I know from personal experience that both mung beans and Chinese long beans are highly drought-tolerant. When we have several weeks of 95+-degree temperatures (that’s Fahrenheit) and no rain, I’ve only needed to give these kinds of plants about a half gallon of water each once a week (even once every other week).

Cherry tomatoes

Cluster of cherry tomatoes hiding within tomato plant, late summer.

It might surprise you to see tomatoes in a list of easy to grow vegetables for beginners in the garden. Some expert growers say they’re a more advanced crop, probably because of all the diseases and pests that can take them down.

Others claim, if you have healthy soil, growing tomatoes is a snap.

The truth is somewhere in between. However, if you want to reduce the risk of disease on your tomato crop, have a crazy prolific harvest – even in temperatures above 90 degrees (F), when the blossoms of many tomatoes turn sterile and fall off – and reduce the risk of tomatoes cracking (and thus rotting) before they get ripe, cherry tomatoes are what you’re looking for.

Start the seeds indoors two months before the last average frost date plus two weeks, or buy cherry tomato seedlings from your local nursery.

Tomatoes are fairly heavy feeders, so even though you’re planting your veggies into rich soil, throw a couple of banana peels into the hole where you’re going to plant a tomato.

Most gardening experts advise you to keep tomatoes pruned down to one or two main stems. But that means you actually have to put pruning tomatoes on your schedule once a week all summer long.

I’ve got better things to do with my time than prune. Instead, I plant my tomatoes every three feet, and either tie them to a trellis every vertical foot or so as they grow, or have them grow in a sturdy cage where they spread out as much as they want.

If you want to keep the plants pruned to one or two stems, inserting a stake about a foot into the ground, and at least five feet above ground, then tying the plants to it as they grow will be sufficient support for the plants.

In the beginning, tomato plants appreciate a decent amount of water (like the beans), but as they grow and get established you may be able to get away with giving each plant a gallon of water every other week.

Cucumbers

Cucumber plant growing over cardboard mulch in high raised bed.

Cucumbers are another controversial crop. Are they an easy vegetable to grow for first time gardeners? Many say no, because they are so prone to fungi in humid climates.

So, buy varieties that are resistant to powdery and downy mildew. Or, plan to plant a new cucumber plant every three to four weeks, up until two months before your area’s first average frost date in the fall. That way, when one plant succumbs to a disease, you’ve got another one ready to go.

Pick off, or spray with orange oil or diluted liquid castile soap, any cucumber beetles you see before they have a chance to spread disease.

Finally, cucumbers are thirsty plants, and would prefer that the soil around the roots stay moist at all times. They would appreciate a gallon of water every other day, perhaps every day, during the hottest time of the summer. The exception would be if the plants are surrounded by six inches or more of wood chip mulch. In that case, they won’t need to be watered as often.

Either way, cucumber plants let you know if they’re not getting enough water by turning the fruit bitter.

Squash

Butternut squash fruit lying on a very long vine.

Both winter squash and summer squash are generally easy to grow vegetables for beginners. They need the average amount of water, and the average amount of fertilizer.

HOWEVER.

The big caveat with squash being an easy vegetable is that it has two major predators: the squash bug, and the squash vine borer.

The squash bug isn’t found everywhere (for example, Minnesota gardeners have never heard of the squash bug), so you may not have to worry about it.

But if you do live in a place where squash bugs abound, they can take down a zucchini plant pretty quickly. Some people take a hand-held vacuum out to their garden and regularly vacuum them up. Peppermint essential oil repels them, so you might try spraying the plants once or twice a week, either with peppermint oil diluted in water, or with peppermint liquid castile soap.

Be aware, however, that both peppermint oil and soap will kill beneficial insects, so spray early in the morning or just before sunset you don’t kill anybody you don’t want to kill.

One year I planted a borage next to a zucchini, and didn’t have any squash bugs that year. So you might try growing a variety of aromatic herbs around whatever kind of squash plant you decide to grow.

The squash vine borer is a bit trickier, as the mama moth lays its eggs on the stem of the squash vine when you’re not looking. When the larvae hatch out, they eat their way in and through the stem, quickly killing the plant.

Squash vine borers don’t bother butternut squash plants, which is why it’s the only winter squash I grow now. For other varieties of winter squash, bury a few inches of the vines for every foot they grow to discourage the moths from laying eggs.

And just like with the squash bug (or any insect pest, for that matter), surrounding the plants with a variety of herbs and flowers will make it harder for the moth to detect the scent of the squash vine.

Egyptian, or walking, onions

Walking onions gone to flower in late May, southern Oklahoma.

Walking onions have to be number one on the list of easy to grow vegetables for a first time gardener. Why am I writing about it last, then? Who knows? Probably because I don’t use them that often, and so they stand around in my garden, bored out of their little onion minds.

If you like cooking with onions, and you don’t grow anything else, grow these. Plant the bulbs once, and you’ll never plant them again. Not only that, but they’ll also slowly spread into other parts of your garden of their own volition, and without asking permission.

You can cut the tall, green stalks off any time before they develop flower heads (when the temperatures head up toward 80 degrees F in the spring or summer) and use them raw in salads, or cooked in any dish that you want to add onion flavor to. When the onions go to flower, the stalks get tough and are only good to use as flavoring in broth or soup.

You can also harvest the little bulbs that form once the flowers go to seed. But hurry! The stalks are going to bend to the ground in order to plant the bulbs to produce new green stalks. This is why they’re called “walking” onions. They seem to change locations all by themselves, when really they’re just replanting themselves. Cool, huh?

Seed head of Egyptian onion, or walking onion. The tiny bulbs have already started growing new green shoots.

Ready to grow?

Now you know the eight easy to grow vegetables for a first time gardener. So, what are you waiting for? Get your garden plot ready, and get growing!

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