No fruits or vegetables taste quite as fresh and delicious as ones that you’ve harvested from your own backyard. If you’ve never tried your hand at home gardening before, the thought of figuring out what to plant can be pretty intimidating. While you probably won’t be able to turn your yard into a full-on farmer’s market, there are a lot of produce items that can be grown easily and organically at home. Here’s our list of the Top 10 things to plant in a home garden.
Arugula adds a nice peppery bite to sandwiches and is a great base for salads. It grows easily in most types of soil and climates in full or partial sunlight. Plant in early spring and thin to 8 inches apart. In 40 days your arugula will be ready to harvest, at which point you should pick large leaves from the bottom of the plant. You can also add the flowers to salads.
Recipe: Grilled Peaches with Rosemary over Arugula Endive Salad
Beets are great to grow at home because you can eat both the root and the leaves. They need well-drained, rich soil and full sunlight to thrive and should be planted 1 inch deep, 2 to 4 inches apart about a month before the last spring frost. Thin your beets when they are 2 to 3 inches tall and use the thinnings as salad greens. They can be harvested in 8 to 10 weeks when they have reached 1 inch or more in diameter.
Recipe: Roasted Baby Beets with Greens & Grapefruit Salad
3. Bell Peppers
From salads and wraps to omelets and meat dishes, you can always find a use for sweet, colorful bell peppers in your kitchen. Start growing them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost, then move them outside to magnesium-rich soil, 10 to 15 inches apart. Green peppers will be ready to harvest in 8 to 11 weeks, while more mature peppers (red, orange or yellow) need an additional 2 to 3 weeks.
Recipe: Greek Orzo Stuffed Peppers
Whether you use it as a salad/sandwich topping, pickle it, or throw it into a drink, you can’t go wrong with cucumbers. Grow in full sunlight and light soil with compost worked in. The best time to plant is 3 to 4 weeks after the last frost since they don’t do well in cold soil. To save space in your garden, you can grow them on a fence or trellis. After 7 to 10 frost-free weeks, pick the cucumbers at 3 to 4 inches for pickling or 6 to 8 inches for slicing.
Recipe: Mango-Cucumber Rice Salad
This super-healthy leafy green will grow just about anywhere with full sunlight and well-drained, calcium-rich soil. Plant 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost ½ inch deep and use a good dose of organic fertilizer once a month. Pick your kale leaves from the bottom of the plant after about 8 to 9 weeks.
Recipe: Spicy Parmesan Green Beans & Kale
This often-overlooked sweeter cousin of the carrot is fairly easy to grow in a home garden. Parsnips should be planted after the last spring frost about 2 ½ inches deep in full sunlight. Make sure to keep them moist until germinated (3 to 4 weeks), then thin them to 2 to 3 inches apart. Since they’re root vegetables, parsnips take a little longer to reach maturity—they won’t be ready until 18 to 20 weeks—but they’ll keep for several weeks once they’re harvested.
Recipe: Maple-Roast Parsnips
Fresh or pickled, radishes add a distinct flavor and texture to salads and sandwiches. Plant 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost in loose, moisture-retentive soil. They should be ½ inch deep in short rows. Spring radishes only take 3 to 5 weeks to reach maturity while winter radishes take 7 to 9 weeks. Pull as needed once they are large enough for use.
Recipe: Spicy Grilled Salmon with Mango, Radish & Lime Salsa
This smaller onion relative has a similar but milder flavor that won’t overpower your dish. They will thrive in almost any soil condition and climate with full sunlight. Shallot bulbs or “sets” should be planted 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost, 1 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Harvest when the tops are nearly dry (about 17 to 21 weeks), or pull them earlier to use as scallions.
Recipe: Sauteed Haddock with Orange-Shallot Sauce
With so many different varieties and uses, squash is a natural choice for a home garden. Plant after the last spring frost up to 4 feet deep, 18 to 24 inches apart in hills of 3 or 4 seeds. Summer squash like zucchini, yellow squash, and pattypan can be harvested after 6 to 9 weeks and is at its peak of flavor when picked small (under 8 inches). Winter squash like butternut takes about 12 to 15 weeks and should be picked at 8 to 12 inches.
Recipe: Simply Elegant Grilled Squash Salad
Delicious, juicy tomatoes are extremely versatile and are one of the most common homegrown plants. They grow best in full sunlight and deep, well-drained soil. You can start your plants inside about 5 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost then replant outside. If you are staking or caging your tomatoes, you can plant them as close as 15 inches apart; otherwise place them 24 to 36 inches apart. Water regularly and add an organic fertilizer only when the plant is in full blossom. Your tomatoes will be ready for harvest in about 8 to 12 weeks and should be picked when the fruit is evenly colored and still firm.
Recipe: Garden Herb Tomato Salad with Cheesy Zucchini Blossoms
What’s your favorite plant to grow in your home garden?
Adapted from Patricia Michalak & Cass Peterson, Rodale’s Successful Organic Gardening: Vegetables (1993)
VIDEO: How to make your own organic fertilizer