Are you keen on the idea of growing your own vegetables, but not really sure where to start? This vegetable gardening for beginners guide is a great first step on your grow your own journey!
Growing your own fruit and veg is a brilliant way to become less reliant on shop-bought produce, and of course it’s also a fantastic way to keep busy in the garden and get the kids involved too. Having said that, some fruit and vegetables are much easier to grow than others!
Vegetable gardening for beginners: quick and easy veg to grow
If you’re restricted by space, garden tools and equipment, or are simply new to the whole grow your own thing, it makes sense to start with crops that are easy to grow. Here are my top picks for quick and easy vegetables to grow now.
Potatoes are easy to grow, but you need to be a little bit organised as they take at least two to three months to produce a harvestable crop. If you can, get hold of some ‘seed potatoes’, these have been grown with the specific purpose of being replanted to produce a crop of potatoes. If not, it’s worth having a go with shop-bought potatoes, but there’s a chance of them developing viruses.
Once you’ve got your potatoes, you need to leave them in a cool place to start sprouting before planting them. When they’re ready, plant them about 8 inches deep. When you start to see leaves, cover them up with more soil, and keep repeating this process until the plants flower. Doing this prevents the growing potatoes turning green and poisonous, and will also increase your crop by encouraging more potatoes to grow on the buried stems. Your potatoes will be ready to harvest once the flowers have died back.
If you’ve got lots of room in the garden you can grow potatoes in rows for a big harvest, but don’t be put off if you don’t have much space. You can grow potatoes very successfully in a container, and using this method is perfect for small gardens or your first efforts at grow your own. My step-by-step guide to growing potatoes in bags has more details on how to do this.
Dwarf french beans
Dwarf french beans are compact plants, making them a brilliant choice if you don’t have much space. Unlike peas and broccoli they don’t need protection from things like birds and butterflies, and you can get away without giving them any supports. All this makes them a very low-maintenance crop. French beans freeze really well too.
We always sow dwarf french bean seeds in pots of compost, and plant them out when they reach about 15-20cm tall. You should be able to start harvesting beans around two months after sowing the seeds, if the weather is on the colder side it could take a bit longer. Try sowing a few seeds every couple of weeks to provide a continuous supply throughout summer.
Courgettes are really easy vegetables to grow, and just one plant can easily supply you with enough harvest – plant any more and you’ll probably end up looking for creative recipes involving courgettes!
Courgette seeds are quite big, which means the kids can easily help sow them. Plant one seed per pot, and plant them out when they reach about 15cm tall and are looking nice and sturdy.
If you do end up with more courgettes than you know what to do with, start to harvest them when they are tiny; baby courgettes are really tasty in pasta and stir fries. And make sure you get the kids to make magic courgettes – lightly scratch their name onto a small one and it will grow pretty quickly into a giant name. Brilliant fun!
Runner beans are climbing plants, so they will need some support – garden canes made into a wigwam shape are perfect – but this means they don’t take up much space. You can easily tuck them in amongst a garden border too. The seeds are big so they’re perfect for kids to plant, you can start them off in pots or plant them straight into their growing site.
Make sure you tie the plants to their supports as they grow, and pinch out the end of the growing shoot when they reach the top. Harvest the pods when they are still young and tender, this will be around four months after sowing.
Onions & shallots
Onions and shallots are grown from ‘sets’. You plant a ‘set’ onion in the ground and it grows into a bigger onion, which you then harvest. Shallot sets are planted the same way, but each one grows a cluster of shallots (a bit like garlic). They are a great vegetable for children to plant, as you just push them into the earth until only the tip is showing. You often get one or two sets popping out of the soil while they grow, so keep an eye on them and shove them back in if they misbehave. They’re ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow and floppy.
When it comes to easy and fast-growing crops, it’s hard to beat salad. Some varieties can be ready for harvesting in as little as two to three weeks, it’s really easy to grow, and it’s perfect for small-scale grow-your-own in containers. Growing salad is also a great project for kids to have a go at, I’ve got an easy guide to doing this here.
Choose a salad variety that you enjoy eating, or go for a packet of mixed seeds to mimic the expensive bags you buy in the shops. Aim to sow the seeds little and often, so that you always have a tasty crop ready to harvest. Remember also to thin your seedlings out if they’re a little crowded; it will really make a difference to the amount of salad you can harvest as each plant has less competition for the nutrients in the compost.
Radishes can really perk up a salad, and quick-maturing varieties can be ready in around four weeks. The speed of growth makes them easy vegetables to grow with children too.
Sow radish seeds directly into the soil, about 1cm deep and in rows 15cm apart. Thin out the seedlings while they are small, leaving 2-4cm between plants. Radishes are another good candidate for sowing little and often to provide a continuous crop.
Fresh herbs can transform your cooking, and with unpredictable supermarket shelves it’s a great idea to have a go at growing your own. You could focus on growing the herbs that you already use the most in your cooking, but it’s also an ideal opportunity to mix things up and try something new.
Basil is a doddle to grow from seed. Unless you have a very sheltered, warm garden, it needs to grow on a sunny windowsill indoors or in a mini greenhouse. Oregano is another good choice, I’ve always bought a small plant and potted it on but you can grow it from seed if you prefer.
Coriander is a bit hardier and fine growing outdoors, it’s a key ingredient in oriental cooking and lovely in salads too. Make sure you plant this one little and often, as it will flower and go to seed quickly. Thyme and rosemary are happy outdoors, they are both slower-growing so I usually buy these as established plants.
A quick word on growing mint – it’s brilliant for new potatoes, herbal tea and Pimms, but make sure you grow it in a pot. Plant it in the garden and it’ll take over before you know it!
For lots of ideas on creating a herb garden check out my Pinterest board:
OK, this is a fruit not a vegetable, but I couldn’t leave them out! Home-grown strawberries taste amazing, and they’re not fussy plants to grow, so if you can get hold of some plants they’re well worth a try.
You can plant strawberry plants straight into the soil from April onwards. If space is tight they look great growing in containers and hanging baskets, this is also an easy way to protect the fruits from damp ground, slugs and snails.
For more inspiration on vegetable gardening for beginners you might like to take a look at these posts:
You could also browse these Pinterest boards for ideas:
Are you having a go at growing your own this year? Let me know what you’re planting in the comments – and if you’ve got any questions about vegetable gardening for beginners, pop them there too and I’ll do my best to help.