If you’ve never grown your own food, now’s the time to give it a try! I promise it’s even more exciting and satisfying than bringing home a bushel from your farm share. With minimal upfront work, you’ll be reaping the fruits (okay, vegetables) of your labor in no time.
Don’t be intimidated — I got the down and dirty from organic gardening expert, Deborah Kates, who’s chosen the three easiest spring vegetables for you to grow from seeds in our area (hint: they make a great salad). Just follow Deborah’s practically fail-proof advice and you’ll be eating tastier, fresher salads picked right from your garden.
3 Easy Vegetables to Grow Right Now
Let’s start with three super hardy foods that can be planted in late March or April. Deborah chose these vegetables because they are easy-peasy. You can start with seeds, they don’t require a lot of sun or warmth, they’re disease-resistant, and they love the extra rain from April showers! You can even plant these vegetables in succession, meaning you can plant new seeds every few weeks to keep a steady harvest coming. But once the heat arrives, these plants tend to lose taste and grow-power.
Once you see how easy it is to grow your own mesclun mix, you’ll balk at having to buy your greens from the grocery store. Not to mention, they look like adorable red and green bouquets in your garden. Any leaf lettuce will do, but these varieties do especially well: Oakleaf, Mesclun Mix, Simpson, Butterhead Bibb, Little Gem Bibb.
We’ll credit Popeye as the one to discover this super food, but by now we all know this green packs a nutritious punch with protein, iron, and a long list of vitamins and minerals. What’s better is that it couldn’t be easier to grow, and you’ll soon have plenty of spinach to toss in smoothies, serve in salads, wilt in soups, or sauté as a side dish. Look for Bloomsdale seed varieties.
Besides being easy to grow, radishes are fun because harvesting them is like a treasure hunt. It usually takes only a week before you see the seedling poke through the dirt. Once the bulbous top of the radish is above the soil line and about an inch in diameter, it’s time for you to gently dig them up. And when you do, don’t throw away those greens — throw them in salads or sandwiches. Look for Easter Egg and French Breakfast varieties.
Deborah’s tips: Don’t knock it ‘til you try it — add a smear of peanut butter to thickly sliced radishes. They’re also delicious roasted! Cut off the greens and wash the radishes. Put in a bowl and sprinkle with olive oil and two teaspoons of salt. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn radishes over and bake for 10 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork.
4 Keys to Growing Your Own Food
Now that you know which vegetables to start with, it’s time to brush up on the basics. Deborah’s broken it down into four tips based on what plants need to flourish: soil, air circulation, sun, and water. Sounds pretty simple, right?
Start with good soil
First things first: You need something to grow your food in. Whether you’re using raised beds in your backyard, pots on your patio, or smaller containers on your windowsill, you need to start with good soil. Soil is a living thing, just like your plants! You can buy it just about anywhere — your local nursery, hardware store, or even the grocery store — but you’ll want a mix of about 2/3 garden soil (or potting soil for small containers) and 1/3 compost (yard waste, decayed leaf, composted cow manure).
It’s important that you don’t plant when your soil is wet. If you’re planting outside, try the “fist test” before planting. Take a handful of soil in a closed hand, then lean down and drop it six inches or so to the ground. If it breaks apart, it’s dry enough. If it stays in the fist shape, it’s still too wet. If you’re planting in containers, you don’t need to worry.
Deborah’s tip: Read the label! It should be labeled as organic and not include artificial fertilizers, feeders, or moisteners.
Give your plants room to breathe
Your plants need good air circulation, just like you do! When you plant your seeds, follow the directions on the package. You’ll find that it’s hard to worry about spacing with seeds because they’re so small, so plant more than you need and plan to “thin” them later. As the plants begin to sprout up, thin them by pulling out any that are too close together. This will leave more room in between plants, and you may have to do it a second time in a few weeks. Also, try to avoid stepping on your soil if it’s in the ground or a raised bed, as it can disrupt and compact the soil’s structure, preventing new growth.
Deborah’s tip: When thinning radishes, lettuce, and spinach, save the sprouts for your salad. They’re microgreens and are loaded with nutrients.
‘Tis better to water deeply than daily
Your plants are thirsty, but remember, they drink from the bottom. So spend a little more time with each watering to be sure it’s saturating the soil and reaching the roots. The good thing about planting seeds in the spring is that it tends to rain a lot, so Mother Nature can help you out. Plants need about an inch of water a week, so be sure to supplement if you’re not getting at least one good rain per week. If there’s little or no rain after you plant your seeds, you should water well every other day until you see sprouts emerge and establish themselves with a little bit of growth. The best time to water is in the morning or early evening. Avoid watering in full sun because the water will evaporate more quickly and can act as a magnifier, burning the leaves of your plants.
Deborah’s tip: To see if you’re watering enough, wait 20 minutes after watering and then stick your finger in the soil down to your knuckle. If it’s still moist, then you watered enough. You can also buy an inexpensive rain gauge and have fun measuring how much rain fell each week.
Spread some sunshine
Choose a location for your plants that has the right amount of sun. Check the plant or seed package to find out how much sun your plant requires before deciding on a spot. The easiest way to make sure you pick a good spot is to observe the area at 9 a.m., noon, and 4 p.m. to see if there’s sun or shade. Tally up the approximate number of hours and make sure it corresponds to the recommendations for what you’re planting. The three easy vegetables Deborah recommends for first-time growers only need about four hours of sun a day. But don’t worry, more never hurts!
Deborah’s tip: If you plant something on your windowsill or in a long window box, be sure to rotate the plant every few days so both sides get access to the sun.
And last but not least, be sure to heed the most important advice from Deborah:
There’s no such thing as gardening perfection. Make mistakes, learn from them, but most of all, have fun!
Good luck with your garden!