March 13, 2018 / Written by: Ebony Porter
Gardening is a hobby that you can spend a lifetime learning about. Seasons change, seeds fail or thrive, and just when you think you know it all, you realize how much there still is to learn. Direct Energy’s Gardening Series is a follow-along guide to embrace the beauty and challenges involved in being a gardener. As a craft that requires patience, creativity, and endurance, gardening can be enjoyed by those of all ages, and is one of the most satisfying ways to spend an early morning or late afternoon. Follow along as we show you how to begin, which herbs grow the best, and other tips on how to plant a garden that will flourish under your care.
No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn– Hal Borland
Spring is undoubtedly the most exciting time of year to immerse oneself in the garden.
The brooding atmosphere of winter has begun to lift, and the snow has started to melt. Bulbs emerge from the ground like a rainbow that rises, and branches come alive with their green buds that signal a new beginning.
It doesn’t take a well seasoned gardener to plant and grow fresh herbs and veggies during the springtime. With a few varieties, you can incorporate some freshly grown goodies into your nightly salads and sauces with very little upkeep along the way.
Keep in mind that many of our summer herbs and veggies such as squash are actually planted in spring, and don’t lead to fruition until summer. However, there are a few items that you can plant now to enjoy before spring’s end.
- 7 Best Vegetables and Herbs to Grow in your Spring Garden
- The best vegetables to plant in Spring
- Why is spring such a good time to plant vegetables?
- But don’t you need a big garden or allotment to grow vegetables?
- Brussels sprouts
- So now you know what to sow in Spring, but where do you start?
- A special mention for Sprouts
- Early Spring Crops
- Grow your own vegetables using our range of healthy vegetable seedlings
- Swiss Chard
- Lettuce/Salad Greens
- Cauliflower & Cabbage
- Advice for New Gardeners: The Best Seeds to Plant in Spring
- Spring Radishes
- Chard and Beets
- Summer Squash
- Seed Starting Resources
7 Best Vegetables and Herbs to Grow in your Spring Garden
Herbs are so easy to grow, you can for the most part ignore them once they are established. There are a few herbs that do require a bit of watering during a very hot spring day, but they aren’t something that needs to be overly watched. Herbs are a great green addition into salads, fresh pasta dishes, smoothies, or salad dressings.
1. Fresh Mint
Head to your local nursery to purchase a mint seedling rather than using seeds. It is slow growing from seed, so it’s best in this situation to start from a small plant.
Mint doesn’t like being in the sun all day. It responds negatively to too much sun, so keep it in a place where it receives partial sun.
You also likely want to keep it in a pot. It’s the type of plant like an ivy that can take over an area and loves to spread. Think of it as running through the soil like octopus tentacles.
If you do plant mint in the ground, then make sure you give it lots of space to roam.
2. Bountiful Basil
There are numerous varieties of basil you can grow, depending on what your palette and style of cooking tends to be. Italian basil or thai basil taste different from one another, so if your goal is to make pesto, then you’ll look for the Italian basil variety.
Basil grows well and easily from seed. Pick up a packet and follow the instructions on planting depth.
You’ll want to keep the ground watered and moist until your seedlings appear. Once they are 2 inches tall, separate them.
If you don’t, their roots will become crowded, and won’t grow to their fullest potential. Replant them roughly 6 inches apart. Basil can get rather tall and bushy for an herb, so give it space to grow.
4. Nasturtium Flowers
A lovely seed to plant is a nasturtium, as the stunning marigold yellow, flame orange and blood red flowers are edible. The leaves are also edible, but it’s the flowers that are a true show stopper on a plate piled with salad. Their flavor is earthy with a little peppery spice.
They love full sun and need watering once a week once established. Plant them near a rock border, and let them cascade over the edges.
3. Fresh Cilantro
Cilantro is a wonderful herb to grow at this time of year. It grows easily from seed, and will grow prolific in a garden filled with healthy, well draining soil. It loves full sun so plant it where your garden receives the most light.
Once it has bloomed and gone to seed, you can either harvest the dry seeds and use them in your cooking or leave them on the stem as the wind will blow them off for reseeding next season.
If you enjoy having butterflies in your garden, plant extra for the caterpillars. The swallowtail caterpillars in particular love them.
5. Spring Lettuce
In the northern parts of the United States, spring is the perfect time to grow lettuce. It’s also possible to grow it in the southern states, but mostly towards the start of spring as opposed to the end.
The varieties are endless with different types of leaves including variegated, red, green, broad leaf, mascara, and lightly scalloped edges.
Most lettuces require a surface sow. This means you gently toss the seeds into the row you are growing them in, and press them in with your foot. Water until you see seedlings emerge, and separate them when they are 2 inches wide.
As the heads grow, harvest the young leaves from the outsides as they grow. This way you’ll extend the life of your lettuce head, and avoid the bitterness that an old lettuce can sometimes produce.
6. Spring Peas
Spring is the time to grow peas. They love those warm sunny days, and slightly cooler nights. Grow your chosen variety of peas from seed, and plant them 2-3 inches from the edge of a trellis.
The trellis is your way of growing the pea vine vertically, so it’s also a great vegetable to grow as a space saver. They require this so that when the flowers turn to fruit, they don’t hang on the ground and rot. This also allows some good aeration around the vines. Keep the seeds watered once you plant them, and once they’re long enough, you can tie the vines to the trellis.
7. Tender Leafy Greens
Other leafy greens to consider in your spring garden bed are spinach and chard. Grow them from seed for budget friendly gardening. If you end up with too many, share the seedlings with friends!
It’s a good idea to purchase some hay, or to use leaves you have raked up as mulch. The more you can mulch your herbs and vegetables, the less you’ll need to water, and you’ll keep those pesky weeds at bay.
About Ebony Porter
Born in Australia, Ebony has been in Texas long enough to consider herself a Texan-Aussie. Ebony has been writing for magazines, newspapers, and blogs, for more than 10 years. When she’s not writing she’s building quilts, growing her own food, or camping with her family somewhere far from the sounds of the city.
The best vegetables to plant in Spring
Why is spring such a good time to plant vegetables?
Spring is finally here, so it’s the perfect time to get out and get planting! Plants need warmth and light to grow and produce edible fruits and vegetables, and the warmer weather and longer days that come with spring provides both of these things. Plant them earlier and the frost could kill them before they get the chance to grow into plants, but plant them too late and they won’t have enough sunny months to produce edible fruits and vegetables before the weather starts to cool down again.
While some plants such as strawberries are actually best planted over winter, the majority are best planted during the spring months.
But don’t you need a big garden or allotment to grow vegetables?
Absolutely not! Plants need good soil, warmth, sunshine and water to grow strong and healthy so as long as you can provide these key elements, there are plenty of plants you can grow. Lots of vegetables can be grown in pots, bags, hanging baskets or even old welly boots. Herbs and salads are especially easy to grow when outdoor space is limited, but with a bit of innovation you can grow almost anything!
So if you want to get started right away, here are my favourite plants to sow in Spring.
Why? This sweet, bright purple vegetable has loads of great health benefits and is delicious in soups, stews, smoothies and even cakes!
When? They can be sown any time from March onwards and their roots are ready to harvest in 7 to 12 weeks.
How? Dedicate a small corner of your garden to these root vegetables, or plant in a pot that’s around 30cm deep. They like their space, so don’t overcrowd them!
Read our guide to growing beetroot for more information.
Why? These leaves are packed full of vitamins and minerals and are super easy to grow. They are really easy to throw into salads, curries, pastas and even smoothies.
When? Sow these in early spring and they’ll be ready to eat by the summer!
How? Sow outside in a small, sunny area of your garden, or plant in pots or window boxes. They don’t need huge amounts of space so you can grow these in fairly shallow containers – just make sure not to plant too many too close together.
Read our guide to growing spinach for more information.
Why? Kale is part of the cabbage family, and it’s packed full of nutrients with a really distinct flavour. Just steam until wilted and stir in some butter or garlic oil for a delicious side.
When? Sow these in early spring for a summer harvest.
How? Like most salad plants, these are happy to grow in pots or hanging baskets in a warm, sunny spot. They can grow surprisingly large, so make sure to plant them in a larger pot.
Read our guide to growing kale for more information.
Why? These are a staple veg that many people buy on a weekly or monthly basis anyway – so why not grow your own instead? They’re easy to add to almost any meal and are packed full of healthy goodness.
When? Sow in Spring and they’ll be ready in 12-16 weeks
How? Carrots grow well in the garden, but you can also grow them in a window box, provided it’s at least 30cm deep!
Why? Don’t believe the lies about Brussels sprouts – these little vegetables are so delicious when cooked correctly! Be careful not to overboil them, and make sure to stir in a little butter, salt or herbamare for an extra-tasty treat.
When? Sow between late March and mid-April and harvest between September and March.
How? Brussels sprouts grow on large plants so are happiest outside in a garden. However, each plant tends to yield a lot of sprouts, so you don’t need to sacrifice your whole garden! Just pick a sunny corner and plant a few.
So now you know what to sow in Spring, but where do you start?
Don’t be too ambitious!
Turning your garden into a fully-fledged allotment with enough vegetables to feed a family all year is a lot to take on all at once. Think about how much available space you have and how many people you’re feeding – you don’t want to end up with more vegetables than you can possibly think about eating! Pick a few of your favourite vegetables and plant a sensible amount of seeds – remember that salad plants tend to grow back as you pick them, as long as you don’t remove too many leaves!
Prepare your soil
Next, make sure your soil is suitable for the plants you want to grow. Before you sow your seeds, check what pH they like. The plants listed above favour a slightly acidic soil, between 6 and 7. You can buy a pH testing kit online for less than £10.
Don’t forget about compost! Compost can help to alter the pH of the soil, and also increase the nutrients in your soil. You can either buy this online, or you can make your own using a compost bin (this will take several months, but it’s a good investment for next year!). Just mix one part compost with two parts garden soil to make a good healthy mixture.
You can use an all-purpose vegetable compost for most plants, though small seeds such as salads and herbs would prefer to grow in a special seed compost first, before being transferred to all-purpose compost, whether in a pot or the garden.
Remember to look out for organic compost and fertiliser if you want to avoid nasty chemicals.
Picking the right container
If you’re growing plants in containers, make sure these have holes in the bottom to allow water to drain. To avoid getting water all over your kitchen, either place the pot on a plate, or inside a larger pot that has no holes – just place some rocks at the bottom to prop the smaller pot up and allow water to drain. I like to slot a small plant pot into an old teapot, so get creative!
A special mention for Sprouts
If you don’t have the time or the space to grow plants, then sprouts might be the thing for you. Our BioSnacky Sprouts can be sown any time of year and are so easy to grow – they don’t even need soil! Just spread the seeds out on one of our Seed Sprouters, water twice a day, and you’ll have ready-to-eat sprouts in just a few days. They’re nutrient-dense and delicious, with a little crunch – perfect for salads, topping pastas or adding to sandwiches.
I love the superfood pack because it contains a great mix of delicious sprouts, including broccoli, red clover and mung bean.
Early Spring Crops
As days grow longer in early spring, gardeners get itchy. And for vegetable gardeners, late March is not too soon to get started.
But you can’t plant just anything. Only a few crops, mainly greens and root vegetables, have seeds that will sprout in cool soil — and to a seed, it’s the soil temperature, not the air temperature, that matters. A brief spell of T-shirt weather in late winter or early spring may bring a gardener out of hibernation but won’t do much to warm the soil.
Even plants that start sprouting in cool soil will sprout more enthusiastically when it gets a bit warmer. Spinach seeds, for example, can germinate in soil as cold as 35 degrees Fahrenheit, but a larger proportion of seeds will sprout at temperatures from 45 to 70 degrees. And when the soil gets much warmer than that — warm enough for tomatoes to germinate — spinach won’t sprout at all.
Germination is not the only issue. There’s also the danger of late frosts that can nip at the foliage of seedlings or a hard freeze that can ruin them. So when you plant early, have a plan for covering crops with floating row covers (or old sheets) when temperatures below 32 degrees are predicted at night.
The Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden starts growing crops beginning early in the spring. Just remember that in Glencoe, the climate is a bit more moderate than farther away from Lake Michigan. Your own garden may not warm up as fast.
The best way to know when to start sowing is to get a soil thermometer (less than $5) and make sure the soil has reached at least 35 degrees. But it’s generally a good bet to start sowing the coolest germinators — spinach and lettuce, which begin sprouting between 35 and 40 degrees — a week or so after the ground in your sunny, well-prepared garden bed has thawed all the way down. That’s often in mid-March, depending on where you are.
A couple of weeks later, follow up with crops that like soil slightly warmer: kale, bok choi, radicchio, cabbage and collards; radishes, turnips and carrots; peas, broccoli, fava beans and onions. Wait a week before sowing Swiss chard, parsley, cauliflower, and parsnips.
But with the notoriously erratic weather of midwestern springs, shrewd gardeners spread their bets. They sow each of these crops in two or three batches, staggered a week apart, so they’ll be most likely to catch the best conditions for each kind of plant.
Of course, seeds don’t just need the right temperature. They need the right soil, amended with compost or other organic matter to make it light and rich. It’s best not to dig amendments into the garden in early spring, though, because the soil is often wet from rain or melting snow and digging in wet soil can compact it.
Early spring crops are a good argument for preparing the vegetable garden in fall. Then you’ll be ready to sow in March without packing down the soil (as long as you don’t walk on the planting beds).
Of course, you can avoid the whole compaction issue if you sow your seeds in raised beds or in containers. And you may even be able to get started a few days earlier, since the soil in raised beds tends to warm up a little faster.
Greens such as lettuce and spinach are especially well-adapted to growing in pots if you plan to harvest the leaves young. Snip the largest leaves individually with scissors when they are 3 to 5 inches and let the younger leaves keep growing, and you can get several salads over several weeks out of 12-inch-wide pot.
Most of the early spring crops are best direct-sown in the soil, although you can start some kinds indoors or buying transplants. Be careful about trying to get an early start, because not all seedlings can withstand a frost. And remember that just because a plant is on sale at the home center doesn’t mean it’s time to plant it. Root vegetables, including radishes, beets, carrots, and turnips, don’t like to be transplanted, so they should always be direct-sown.
A root crop well-suited to container gardening is round radishes, which can produce happily in a pot just 6 to 8 inches deep. For sheer early spring gardening satisfaction, radishes are hard to beat. Given sun, good soil, and steady moisture, you can go from sowing seed on a chilly day to slicing radishes into your salad in less than a month. That should be quick enough to scratch any gardener’s itch.
Grow your own vegetables using our range of healthy vegetable seedlings
Growing vegetables from seed is rewarding and fun but sometimes due to time constraints or lack of propagation equipment it just isn’t possible. Planting 4-6 week old vegetable plug plants is quick and easy and is most successful way to start a vegetable garden, especially for beginners.
Growing using Quickcrop vegetable seedlings instead of growing vegetables from seed has the following advantages:
Most vegetables are started off in early Spring when the weather in the garden can be changeable with a high risk of frost or cold and wet conditions. Pre-grown vegetable seedlings or vegetable plug plants are already strong enough to survive bad weather as the early stages of growth have been done under cover. All Quickcrop vegetable seedling plants have been hardened off before they are delivered meaning they are used to being outdoors and are ready to plant in your garden.
The delicate first shoots from a seed are also very vulnerable to attack from slugs or snails which can easily wipe out entire rows of emerging vegetable plants in a single night. Vegetable seedlings are different as they are large and healthy enough to resist the odd nibble.
Excellent Root Growth
Our vegetable seedlings are started off in modular seedling trays in a specially formulated organic seed compost. Strong root growth is very important at the seedling stage as they are the foundation for healthy growth later on. We use a mix of standard organic seed compost and organic worm cast compost to achieve an impressive root system and a strong and healthy baby vegetable plant.
Get more from your garden over the gardening year
Vegetable seedlings grown in pots or modular seedling trays can be planted as soon as a previous crop is harvested meaning you save 4-6 weeks of growing time. You can also get a head start on the season for the same reason; plug plants can be put in as soon as the soil is warm enough in the Spring meaning you are 4-6 weeks ahead of the growing season.
Convenience – buy vegetable plants online
Ordering your vegetable plants online from Quickcrop is quick and easy with our unique vegetable seedling plant picker tool. Use our tool to scroll through the available vegetable plants for the correct time of the year and add your choice to the tray below. Growing information is available for each plant by clicking an easy to see icon so you can make an informed choice on what you want to grow in your kitchen garden. We have an extensive list of vegetable plants for sale from February to late September.
No experience? We show you how to grow vegetables
If you are new to vegetable growing you may need some help with what to plant in your vegetable garden and this is where we really excel. Quickcrop is one of the leading online vegetable gardening supplies companies in the UK because we are never very far away from our own gardens. Both directors of the business are expert vegetable growers and are always keen to give help and advice on your vegetable gardening project.
Our vegetable growers ‘Learning Centre’ is free to all our customers and contains an ever increasing library of ‘how to grow vegetables’ video tutorials and written support material. Quickcrop also hosts our unique ‘Growmatic’ growers software tool which enables you to project manage your garden from your desktop.
Raised beds and vegetable garden plans
Quickcrop are the leading suppliers of timber raised vegetable beds, soil mixes and all the organic plant feeds and top quality tools you are likely to need. Remember we are vegetable growers too and are happy that the supplies we use in our kitchen gardens will work as well in your garden as they do in ours.
We supply raised bed planting plans for most of our raised beds to help get you growing your own in record time. Planting a garden can be a little daunting for a beginner with different planting distances and requirements for the vegetables you might want to grow. We provide ready to use plans for a range of garden sizes using an amended version of the ‘Square Foot Gardening’ principle. At Quickcrop we have built our business on making it easy to ‘Grow Your Own’ straight out of the box.
A ‘Grow your own’ vegetable garden has never been easier, give us a try and let us exceed your expectations in what an online plant nursery can provide.
Quickcrop Vegetable Plug Plants Provide You With An Instant Growing Vegetable Garden
No Hassle Easy Gardening To Provide Healthy And Tasty Food For All Of Your Family.
Let’s be clear from the start: this article is not about which things to plant first for the year, but which to plant first in the spring. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, spring officially begins some time in March, depending on what seasonal gauge one chooses. For our purposes (growing food), we’ll be calling spring the time immediately following the final frost of the year. For some lucky folks, this will be slightly before March; for others, the wait could push much later.
There are many plants that will tolerate colder, even freezing temperatures. Onions, peas, and spinach are happy to be planted as soon as the ground is defrosted enough to allow it. Other plants, like kale and broccoli, will tolerate some light frosts and prefer earlier sowing so that they can reach maturity before the summer sizzle really gets going. But, right now, we are talking about those plants that have been anxiously waiting for the frosts to subside. These are the first seeds we should plant in spring.
As soon as the frost is out of the way, seed potatoes should be sown. They’ll do best in loose, well-drained, rich soil that is kept moist and mulched. Potatoes like cool weather, but they don’t dig it when temperatures drop much below freezing. If it gets really hot, they’ll simply keel over. So, get them in as early as possible and enjoy potato salad at those summer barbecues.
Radishes can actually go in the ground a little sooner, but they are a fast-growing vegetable that should be planted often. Sowing them every couple of weeks will keep those spring salads zesty, with a spicy crunch and vibrant color. Radishes make great companion plants for many vegetables, so they are something to put all around the garden.
In the same family as spinach, a real wintertime warrior, beets require a little bit warmer temperatures (getting toward 50 degrees) to start. Planting tips include taking it easy on the nitrogen, as it will cause bigger leaves but smaller bulbs, and making sure that the soil is otherwise nutrient-rich. A spring leaf compost would likely be spot on for beets, and the seeds should be planted directly in the garden.
Not most popular of veggies, turnips — the roots — are actually very delicious, easy-going vegetables that can add something different to the mix. And, the greens are amazing, especially in those spring temperatures that are still dipping into the 40s. Turnip greens sweeten a little in the crisp air, so it’s better to get them in before the summer scorches everything.
Chard can be a beautiful, colorful addition to gardens, with some varieties almost like a full-fledged ornamental plants. Nevertheless, they are delicious and highly nutritious, and they want to be put in the ground when temperatures are at about that 50-degree mark, the same as beets, which they actually are but lacking the edible bulb. Sow them directly in the ground.
Nothing says the season has begun quite so definitely as a fresh, green salad. Lettuces can tolerate an occasional frost, and loose-leaf varieties come up really quickly. Within the a few weeks, keen gardeners will be enjoying the bounty of spring. Lettuce loves very fertile soil and a lot of water.
Cauliflower & Cabbage
Cauliflower and cabbage are close relatives, and they work very similarly in the garden, and they should actually be planted around two weeks before the final frost, but they could be squeezed in a tiny bit later. Fall crops are said to be more productive than spring, but spring plantings can provide heads within about ten weeks.
Once this group is in the ground and the early winter sowings are showing some promise, it’s time to start thinking about the summertime selection, all those delicious tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers coming soon. That’s the beauty of gardening at home – something new and fresh and plentiful is just a few weeks away!
Image source: Tiplyashina Evgeniya/
Advice for New Gardeners: The Best Seeds to Plant in Spring
In my very first year of gardening, I did what any ambitious beginner would do in a brand-new garden: I bought a bunch of seeds that looked good, threw them in the ground, and hoped at least a few of them would come up.
Some seeds did come up, but many others either took their sweet time germinating (laying dormant for weeks until I’d forgotten about them) or never sprouted at all, becoming a free buffet for a passing bird or slug.
It took several seasons of trial and error before I mastered the tricks of seed starting, learned which varieties grew best in my climate, and figured out when to plant them for a productive harvest.
Ironically, it took much less time than that to realize that patience — a somewhat necessary trait for a gardener — was not one of my strong suits, and after a winter of minimal sun and slow-growing crops, I wanted near-instant gratification in the garden come spring. I didn’t want to wait alllll season long for my first harvest, I didn’t want to coddle seedlings or worry whether I was doing it “right.” Yet, I really loved growing my own food from seed.
In short, I just wanted it to be easy. Fun, fast, and easy.
What I’ve discovered is that many of my favorite food plants in the garden are those that come up quickly and can be harvested at any stage. It’s encouraging to see your seeds sprout in just a few short days, and oh-so-satisfying to pick your first crop in a matter of weeks.
The prime time to start your seeds in the garden is shortly after the last frost date in your region ( to check for your zip code). Once the soil temperature has warmed to at least 65°F to 70°F (typically two weeks after the last frost date; I use a soil thermometer like this one to gauge when my garden’s ready) and nighttime temps are consistently above 45°F, you can safely plant most vegetable seeds outside, directly in the soil, without the need for frost covers or other protection.
There are certain seeds (like peas and lettuce) that will germinate at much lower temperatures, but their growth will be slower in the beginning. I usually like to fill up a whole plot with seeds at the same time, so I prefer to wait until it’s a little warmer to give all my seedlings a strong start.
Below, I’ve rounded up the best seeds to plant in spring. These varieties are perfect for new gardeners, impatient gardeners (like me!), and kids who want to help, since many of them are larger seeds that are easier to handle.
Fast-growing lettuce is a springtime staple, as the leafy greens thrive in cool weather. Varieties include iceberg (the sturdiest and longest-keeping lettuce, but also the blandest), romaine, butterhead, and leaf lettuce.
Butterhead lettuces are further categorized as Boston or Bibb types, and their soft, supple leaves are ideal for lettuce cup recipes. Leaf lettuces come in red, green, and oak types, and the tender leaves are often found in bagged baby salad greens (usually labeled as mesclun or spring mixes).
Lettuces mature a month after germination, but can be picked earlier in the baby stage. With the sheer variety of lettuces available, it can be overwhelming trying to choose what to grow. I like to buy packets of “salad mix” seeds that sometimes include mustards, arugula, kale, or cress for a complementary blend of colors, textures, and flavors.
Tiny, delicate lettuce seeds require light for germination, so they should be scattered lightly across the soil and watered in (with no soil covering them). Sometimes I rake them in with a hand cultivator (like this one) to make sure they’re embedded in the soil and won’t fly or wash away.
The best practice for growing lettuce — and maintaining a consistent harvest all season — is to sow a hefty pinch or two of lettuce seeds every other week. Because they grow so quickly and don’t mind a little shade, they’re great for filling in empty spots in your garden beds or interplanting between rows of slower-growing crops like carrots and peppers.
Favorite Varieties: Gourmet Baby Greens Mesclun lettuce, Market Day Mesclun lettuce, Chef’s Gourmet Spicy Mix Mesclun lettuce, Gentilina lettuce (a good heat-tolerant variety), Celtuce lettuce
This broad category of leafy greens (also known as cole crops or cruciferous vegetables) is one of the first crops to go in my garden every spring. They include common bitter greens like kale and collards (side note: here’s an interesting post I wrote about the “bitter genes” that some people lack), as well as my personal favorites, tatsoi and bok choy, which have a milder flavor.
I usually don’t recommend broccoli, cauliflower, or brussels sprouts for beginners, as it can be a little tricky getting heads or sprouts to form properly. (Sometimes, they form too loosely or never produce at all.)
But if you aren’t worried about that, go ahead and plant them — the leaves on their own are mildly earthy and delicious, giving you a “bonus” vegetable while you wait for the heads to form.
Brassicas are cut-and-come-again crops, meaning you can harvest a few leaves at a time from each plant, every couple of days, and it will continue to grow. This means you can also begin picking the plant before it’s fully mature (like baby kale for salads), giving you the first harvest within a month of sowing seeds.
The seeds are smooth, round, and tiny, and best sown with a dibber, or scattered lightly across the ground and covered with 1/4- to 1/2-inch of soil.
Favorite Varieties: Nero Toscana kale, Red Russian kale, Tronchuda kale (fairly heat-tolerant), Georgia Southern collards, Romanesco broccoli (I love to grow this each year), Aubervilliers Savoy cabbage, One Kilo Slow Bolt napa cabbage, Rosette tatsoi, Toy Choy bok choy, Purple Lady bok choy
Believe it or not, there are actually three different types of radishes (spring, summer, and winter) that determine their days to maturity, with winter types being the largest varieties and also taking the longest to grow.
Spring radishes are the babies of the group, and what we commonly know as salad radishes. They’re usually eaten raw and known for having a peppery kick, but they can also be roasted, braised, or sautéed, which mellows out their spiciness.
The roots, leaves, and seed pods are all edible, so not to worry if you left a few plants in the ground too long — you can harvest the pods and use them for salads or pickling. (There’s even a special cultivar of radish called Rat’s Tail radish that’s grown specifically for the seed pods, as it doesn’t produce an edible root.)
As one of my top picks for a foolproof beginner crop (and my favorite crop to interplant among slower-growing vegetables), spring radishes sprout within a couple of days and mature in as little as three weeks. They will turn spongy or woody if left in the ground too long, so it’s best to pull them as soon as they’re ready.
The seeds are small and round-ish, which make them easy to sow. Simply poke a pencil or chopstick (or similarly-sized dibber tool) into the ground about 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep, drop in a seed, and cover lightly with soil.
Favorite Varieties: French Breakfast radish, Purple Plum radish, White Hailstone radish (I grew it here), Crimson Giant radish, Easter Egg Blend radish
Chard and Beets
I put chard and beets in the same heading because while they are different varieties of plants, they come from the same plant family (Beta vulgaris) and share a similar flavor profile.
During growth, it’s also hard to discern one from the other as the leaves look very much alike (and overgrown chard root isn’t too far off from beet root).
Some people even sow beet seeds specifically for microgreens, so they never make it to full maturity. Baby beet greens and baby chard are delicious in salads, while baby beets can be peeled and sliced thin with a mandoline and eaten raw.
Chard and beet seeds are known as multigerm seeds; that is, they are clusters of flowers that end up producing clusters of seed balls. (You can read more about that here in my previous post.)
Each seed that you get in a seed packet is actually several seeds fused together, resulting in multiple seedlings sprouting from the same seed ball. Chard and beet seeds germinate in less than a week and the plants mature in 50 to 65 days, though either can be picked early.
To sow, make a trench in the soil about 1/2- to 1-inch deep and space the seeds 3 to 6 inches apart. Cover with soil. Once the seedlings are at least 4 inches tall, thin them to one plant every 6 to 12 inches (and save the thinnings for salads!).
Favorite Varieties: Five Color Silverbeet swiss chard, Apple Blossom Blend Baby Greens chard, Chioggia beet, Golden Boy beet, Albino beet, Cylindra beet, Gourmet Blend beets
This category of easy-grow beginner-friendly crops includes snap peas, snow peas, shelling peas, fava beans, bush beans, and pole beans, all of which are incredibly satisfying to plant because the large seeds are easy to handle. (A nice change from the teeny tiny seeds that like to stick all over your fingers and before you know it, you’ve gone through a whole packet without meaning to.)
Legume seeds germinate within a couple of days and the plants mature in 60 to 70 days. Maturation, in these cases, is the point at which the pods are ready for harvest.
However, you can harvest the young shoots and leaves from your pea and bean plants long before the pods appear, as they’re edible and make great salad greens. (Yes, you can eat bean leaves! Fava leaves, in particular, are a favorite of mine for how mild and tender they are.)
All peas, as well as fava beans, should be planted as soon as possible in spring to take advantage of the cool weather they prefer.
This is one variety where you can even start seeds before your last frost date, when the soil is at least 45°F — but I usually don’t recommend it, as excessive moisture from snowmelt or spring rains can cause your seeds to sit in soggy soil and rot before they have a chance to germinate. They also take a little longer to germinate in these colder temperatures.
Bush beans and pole beans are warm-weather crops that can be sown from spring into summer. I sometimes sow a new batch of bush bean seeds mid-season to ensure a steady harvest. Even if you choose to grow pole beans, it’s always worth planting a small row of bush beans because they mature a little quicker (in about 50 to 55 days).
Sow seeds about 1-inch deep and cover with soil. Peas and pole beans will need a trellis to climb, as the vines can reach over 6 feet long. Fava beans benefit from stakes or small cages to keep the plants from tipping over, while bush beans are compact plants that don’t need any support at all.
Favorite Varieties: Sugar Daddy snap pea, Wando shelling pea (a cold- and heat-tolerant variety), Golden Sweet snow pea (always a top producer in my garden), Oregon Sugar Pod II snow pea, Extra Precoce a Grand Violetto fava bean, Royal Burgundy bush bean (a summer staple for me), Beurre de Rocquencourt bush bean, Dragon Tongue bush bean (I grow these every year), Tongues of Fire bush bean, Gold Marie vining bean, Thai Purple Podded yardlong bean
Fragrant basil is one of the easiest herbs to start from seed (see my prior post about the challenges of germinating parsley seeds!) and, once planted, self-seeds freely if you let it.
It’s also super easy to take cuttings and regrow from the stems, so you can divide a single plant into multiple plants without having to start more seeds.
When left to flower, basil is highly attractive to pollinators, making it an excellent choice as a companion crop among cucumbers, squash, and fruit trees. I usually keep one of each type of basil plant in my kitchen garden (sweet, spicy, citrusy, and maybe a specialty variety like cinnamon), and scatter a few more around the yard in my ornamental beds, just for their flowers.
Basil planted in walkways will release an intoxicating aroma when you brush against them. (This same aroma also helps to repel flies, gnats, and mosquitoes, so plant some basil near your windows too.)
For all these reasons, this multi-use herb makes an appearance in my garden every year as a staple crop. If you’re stuck on which variety to grow, try a “basil blend” packet that includes a mix of seed cultivars and foliage colors.
To sow, scatter the seeds and cover lightly with soil. In my experience, they take 5 to 10 days to germinate (the warmer the soil, the faster they’ll germinate). Maturity is reached in 60 to 80 days, and while basil seedlings develop slowly and steadily in cooler spring weather, they really go bonkers once daytime temperatures soar into the 80s°F.
Favorite Varieties: Siam Queen Thai basil, Lettuce Leaf basil, Lemon basil, Lime basil, Purple Petra basil, Custom Blend basil
Squash is jokingly known in gardening circles as the crop that keeps on giving. A single plant often leaves you with more squash than you know what to do with!
Summer squash is also not the notorious space hog that winter squash is. With the exception of certain varieties that can be left on the vines longer to store as winter squash, summer squash are non-vining, compact bush varieties that stay upright and only take up a 3-foot-by-3-foot area.
Summer squash average 60 days to harvest, though baby squash can be harvested as soon as a week after flowering. (For some fun facts about squash flowers and pollination, check out my post on the sex life of squash!)
All squash have a stage at which they’re the most tender, moist, and prime for picking, but if you let yours go a little too long and that zucchini has suddenly grown into a foot-long monster, all is not lost. I find larger squash ideal for pureeing into creamy soups, grating into baked goods, or spiralizing into noodles.
Sow the seeds about 1-inch deep and lightly cover with soil. As a warm-weather crop, summer squash germinates best when the soil is nice and toasty. You’ll get decent germination in our target seed starting range of 65°F to 70°F, but the quickest (and close to 100 percent) germination at soil temperatures of 80°F or above, with seeds sprouting in just a few days at that point.
Favorite Varieties: Jaune et Verte Patty Pan summer squash, Patisson Strie Melange summer squash (I grew it here), Round Zucchini summer squash, Gray Zucchini summer squash, Lemon summer squash, Sunstripe summer squash, Costata Romanesco summer squash, Zucchino Rampicante squash (this fun-to-grow heirloom squash — and quite a prolific vining variety — can be picked early as summer squash or left to cure as winter squash)
Last on the list, but certainly not least, is one of my absolute favorite summer crops, cucumbers. I love them so much that I try to sow seeds as soon as my soil is ready, because I like to snack on them all summer long and save a few harvests for pickling as well.
Most people are familiar with the common vining cucumbers that need climbing support, but compact bush types are also available for gardeners short on space.
Most people also think of long and slender green fruits when they picture cucumbers, but this crisp, refreshing crop actually comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors when you’re looking at heirloom seeds. (Some of my favorite and more unconventional picks are below.)
Cucumbers are in the same family as squash, so their growing needs are similar. They grow best when it’s warm, but the seeds will germinate in our magic range of 65°F to 70°F. Sow the seeds 1-inch deep and cover with soil. In less than a week, the first seedlings will emerge.
With the exception of Mexican Sour Gherkins (which are often grouped with cucumbers because of their cucumber-like flavor, but in fact belong to a different genus altogether, Melothria), cucumbers (Cucumis) are large plants. Their final spacing in the garden should be 18 to 24 inches apart for a prolific harvest.
Favorite Varieties: Armenian cucumber (I grew a similar variety here), Dragon’s Egg cucumber (I grew them in this post), Lemon cucumber, Richmond Green Apple cucumber, Beit Alpha cucumber, Parisian Gherkin cucumber, Sikkim cucumber, Gagon cucumber, Suyo Long cucumber, Mexican Sour Gherkin cucumber (read more about them here)