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Taste Of Sweet Success | Spring 2011 Out Here Magazine

Tomatoes, with plenty of varieties, are one of the easiest and most rewarding vegetables for beginning gardeners.

You can't miss with these home-grown vegetables

By Peter V. Fossel
Photography by iStock

There was a time when I didn't garden, but then I turned 9 and my parents gave me some seed packets, so I've been growing ever since. Maybe it's the miracle of holding a tomato seed and knowing you can get 25 pounds or more from its plant — or my love for fertile earth, or the fragrance and flavor of fresh vegetables. Or simply the satisfaction in growing your own food.

All you need is six hours of sun and good soil. The richer your soil is in organic matter, the more bountiful your harvest and more immune your plants will be to pests and diseases, because these seek out weak, stressed plants and yours won't be.

These five vegetables are perhaps the easiest and most rewarding to begin with:

Tomatoes

Buy plants with no blossoms or baby tomatoes forming; these have been in the pot too long. A few plants are all you need to start. Snap or cut off the bottom two or three sets of leaves and bury this part underground, deeper than it was in the pot, because tomatoes root off the stem. Grow determinate tomatoes in the beginning (meaning they fruit over a concentrated period) because these don't need staking, cages, or pruning. The only serious tomato pest is the tomato hornworm, so watch for them.

Snap Beans

These are delicious fresh, easy to grow, and freeze well. I grow them in a foot-wide bed, 2 inches deep formed by raking back the soil to one side. Plant seeds thickly, an inch or less apart, some almost touching. This creates a living mulch to suppress weeds and hold soil moisture. Plant a bed every few weeks to keep the harvest coming all summer. Mexican bean beetles can be a problem, but they generally don't appear until the beans are done producing.

Leaf Lettuce

This I plant like beans, in wide rows thickly, with six or eight different varieties in the same patch. Again, it shades the soil against moisture loss and weeds, and keeps soil cool to prevent bolting (going to seed). When the lettuce is ready, I give part of the bed a haircut for salad that night. I get three or four "cuttings" from each section, so the bed can produce for months. Stagger plantings; lettuce is the only vegetable that cannot be preserved.

Sugar Snap Peas

Along with tomatoes, this is my favorite vegetable — eaten fresh or steamed slightly. You'll need a trellis, 6 feet tall if possible, then plant peas as with beans. All you do then is wait for harvest, and enjoy one of the sweetest things ever.

Radishes

Store-bought radishes? Forget it. But the real ones, grown from seed and picked fresh, are sweet, tangy, and lovely as a snack or with salads. They grow quickly, are almost immune to pests — and their greens are delicious. I grow these in a wide bed also, but spaced enough for root development. They're a beginner's winner.

Peter V. Fossel is a longtime farmer and author of Organic Farming: Everything You Need to Know.