I spent most evenings over the past week digging through the stacks of seed catalogs that have been arriving at my house since Thanksgiving. While I probably get more catalogs than most gardeners, it struck me how daunting deciding what to grow might be for beginning vegetable gardeners.
And, there will be lots of beginning vegetable gardeners in 2009, if you believe the latest trend reports. That’s great, but the problem is the catalogs are so enticing, and the truth is, not everything shown in the catalogs will grow well in our climate — or look as good as it does in the catalog, if it does grow. Or, grow well without a certain amount of expertise. So — as a gardener who has watched lots of plants die or just sit there — here are some suggestions of sure-fire, almost-no-fail vegetables to plant.
Tomatoes. Nothing, but nothing in the store is as nice as a fresh tomato from your own garden. The best bets for the north are the cherry types (can’t beat Sweet 100s for reliability) or any of the pear tomatoes. I had great luck with Beam’s pear last year and am trying a mix of red and yellow pear tomatoes this year. A totally reliable slicing tomato is Celebrity. It’s an All-American Selection winner from 1984, is widely available as a seedling, resists most diseases, and performs well even in somewhat poor conditions. If you want to make tomato sauce or salsa, try ‘Roma.’ I’m going to grow ‘San Marzano‘ this year, which I’ve heard is very reliable as well. Newbie gardeners should buy starts (little tomato plants) rather than trying to start tomatoes, peppers and other warm-season crops from seed. Tomatoes need warm soil — something we don’t have in Minnesota until about June — and it’s a hassle to start seeds inside (it’s fun, but a hassle), so go to a local nursery or the farmers’ market and buy plant starts there. The farmer or nursery employee will be able to offer advice, too, on when and where to plant the seedlings.
- Green beans. Another easy plant to grow. Get a bush variety so you don’t have to hassle with setting up a trellis or pole tepee. Some of the most reliable are Provider or French Filet. If you want to grow pole beans because they require less space, try Blue Lake or Kentucky Wonder. Like tomatoes, beans do not like cold soil. Wait until it’s getting warm before you plant them, and keep an eye out for bunnies. My beans were nibbled to the nubs last year by rabbits. This year, I’m putting a wire fence around the bean bed.
- Lettuce. Seed providers have really gone crazy with lettuce mixes, so try one. I’m planting ‘Farmer’s Market Blend‘ from Renee’s Garden, but there are dozens of options. Lettuce can be planted early, just keep it moist and don’t plant it all at once. You want to plant every couple of weeks in the spring, then take a break, and plant again in August for a fall crop.
Zucchini. Zucchini is so sure fire, I almost hate to mention it. Plant this summer squash (any variety will do) and you’ll soon be leaving grocery bags of it on unsuspecting neighbor’s porches.
- Raspberries. If you have room, and you want big gratification for little effort, plant raspberries. A trellis will keep them neat, but raspberries are a bramble — which is a close cousin to a weed — so plant a few bare-roots and watch them produce. I grow ‘Anne‘ and ‘Caroline’ and love them, but there are many good varieties for the north.
Those would be my picks for a first garden. What would other gardeners plant if they were planting their first vegetable garden?