By Sarah E. White
Vegetable gardening is a lot of fun. It’s great to harvest food from your back yard, and it’s wonderful for kids to have a chance to learn where food comes from and to help grow some of their favorites.
If you’ve never grown vegetables before, don’t worry. This list of easy-to-grow vegetables (and some herbs, too) will help you wisely choose the produce that will give you the most success.
Nearly every list of easy-to-grow vegetables starts with lettuce, and with good reason: so long as you plant it at the right time, it will grow from seed with little attention.
The right time is when the soil is cool, in the spring and fall. In Arkansas, you can plant lettuce seeds from February to April, and again in September for a fall harvest.
Check for varieties of lettuce and spinach that are more heat-tolerant to keep greens growing longer through the season.
Radishes are often touted as the perfect starter crop for kids because they grow so fast – from seed to harvest in around 20 days.
I don’t know a lot of kids who like radishes, but if you and your family do enjoy them, they are super easy and fast to grow. Plant February to May in Arkansas, as well as in August and September for fall crops.
Speaking of root vegetables, carrots are another great, easy vegetable for kids and first-time gardeners alike (and kids are more likely to want to eat them).
Baby carrots grow fast and don’t need as much good soil as longer carrots do. Either kind can be started from seed between February and April, after the chance of frost has passed, or in early August for a fall harvest. They’re usually ready in about 75 days.
One great seed you can plant, pretty much leave alone other than watering, and end up harvesting a huge amount from a few plants is green beans.
The only thing green beans need is something to grow on. When I was growing up, we used a trellis made of clothesline. Once your green beans get going – about two months after planting – you’ll want to check them every day for new beans, because you’re likely to find them.
Plant beans from March through August, after the chance of frost has passed where you live.
Like green beans, snap peas are pretty quick and easy to grow from seed. They can be planted from March through August, so keep dropping seeds every couple of weeks for a consistent harvest.
Give plants support with trellises, and you’ll have peas to snack on in a little less than two months.
Similar to the other vining vegetables on this list, cucumbers just need support and regular watering to thrive.
You’ll want to check your vines daily once they start producing – which should be about 65 days after planting from April to May (sooner for little pickling cucumbers) – because cukes can sneak up on you. They will hide until they are gigantic and they can turn huge without warning.
They’re perfect in summer salads, a refreshing addition to drinks, and you might be surprised to learn that homegrown cucumbers actually have flavor!
Tomatoes can be kind of touchy. There are lots of pests and diseases that can get them, some varieties don’t like it too hot and they can crack if you water them too much. But the whole reason to have a garden is to be able to eat vine-ripened tomatoes still warm from the sun, so give them a try.
It’s easiest to grow tomatoes from seedlings rather than starting the seeds yourself. Dig a big hole and bury about half of the plant in the ground.
Cherokee Purple and Arkansas Pink are classic local varieties that do well in Arkansas. Or try cherry tomatoes in a container or in the ground; they tend to be easier to grow and can still produce a lot of fruit.
Tomatoes should be planted after all chance of frost is gone – do not rely on when they show up in stores as a reliable predictor of when to plant.
Most herbs are pretty easy to grow as long as they get adequate sunlight. I like to grown mine in pots so I can move them around to sunny spots when they need it, and shadier places in the heat of the summer. Pots are essential for mint because it will spread if allowed to.
Many herbs can be grown successfully from seed, including parsley, cilantro, mint, dill, chives and basil. We usually buy both basil plants and seeds to have a lot, and we buy rosemary and thyme as plants instead of starting them from seed. Either way they’re easy to grow, and you can harvest what you need for a fresh addition to meals all summer long.