The 5 Best Types of Garden Vegetables to Plant at Home
The most important consideration to make for home vegetable gardening is deciding what you like to eat. Think also about what grows well in your area, what's hard to find in your grocery store, how much space you have for a vegetable garden, and how much time you have to maintain it.
- Herbs. Herbs offer the closest thing to instant gratification in the garden. They are among the easiest edibles to grow, and you can start harvesting little snippets of seasoning almost right away. A small number of herbs are summer annuals (basil, dill, and cilantro being prime examples). These mature quickly and can be planted every 30 days to ensure a fresh supply—heat-loving basil and dill in the warm months; cilantro in spring and fall. But most herbs are low-maintenance perennials—including rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, lavender, savory, chives, tarragon, mint, and fennel—meaning you can plant them once and harvest for years (parsley, a biennial, lives for two growing seasons). Some herbs, such as rosemary, can grow to the size of an armchair, but if you’re short on space you can pack several different perennial herb seedlings in a single window planter and they will grow just fine, albeit dwarfed.
- Greens of all kinds. Also known as leafy greens or leaf vegetables, greens are arguably the second easiest edible to grow. A 4-by-8 planter full of greens like kale, spinach, arugula, collards, or Swiss chard is enough to keep a family of four stocked with salad fixings. It can take months for a head of lettuce or cabbage to fully mature, a waiting game during which lots can go wrong (from aphids and slugs to hungry rabbits and heat waves), which is why many gardeners hedge their bets and harvest “baby” greens (immature versions of the full-sized crop). These tender specimens may be picked in as little as 30 days from when the seeds are planted. Perhaps the most important thing to know about greens is that they love cool weather. Plant them in early spring if possible—once temperatures are consistently in the 80s, most will cease to grow and prepare to bolt, the horticultural term for sending up a flower stalk and setting seed. This causes the greens to become bitter. You can sow a second crop in late summer that will mature in time for a fall harvest.
- Legumes. Like greens and herbs, legumes grow vigorously with minimal effort. Pole beans and peas grown on short vines require a trellis, for which there are many options: an existing chain-link fence, a tipi of bamboo poles, a decorative arbor from your local garden center. The options are endless, and the vines are light and short-lived, so you don’t need to worry about building something sturdy or permanent. The most important thing is guiding little legume seedlings toward the bottom of the trellis (once they've latched on they will pull themselves up). Alternatively, plant “bush beans,” which have been bred to grow in a short, stocky shape, eliminating the need for a trellis. While most beans shouldn't be planted until mid or late spring when the weather warms up, both sugar snap peas and English peas are delicious, cool weather-friendly options.
- Root Crops. Root crops are a diverse bunch of nutrient-heavy vegetables that include: sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, rutabaga, shallots, turnips, horseradish, ginger, onion, leeks, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, radishes, parsnips, and more. Beets, radishes, carrots and turnips are easy-to-grow, fast-maturing cool weather crops that provide a worthwhile harvest even in a small space. Sweet potatoes grow as a sprawling, vine-like groundcover and require a long, hot growing season. White potatoes also sprawl widely but love cool weather; plant them as soon as the ground thaws in late winter. Onions and garlic scarcely take up any space and are among the rare crops that are typically planted in fall for a spring harvest—the bulbs overwinter underground. Try growing your root groups in a raised garden bed. Raised beds offer full control over the type of soil and are ideal environments for root crops to flourish.
- Tomatoes. While regular tomato plants require ample room for vines to sprawl, there are some options ideal for small spaces, such as heirloom dwarf cherry tomato plants (often referred to as “patio” tomatoes).
Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass All-Access Pass and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.