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10 Easy Vegetables Any Gardener Can Grow

Now that you've got some time on your hands, it's time to tackle that vegetable garden. Growing vegetables is easy as long as you have a sunny, well-drained site with decent soil.

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ZucchiniPhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants


Anyone who's ever grown zucchini in their garden can tell you how easy it is to raise a bumper crop. Once the vines start producing, there's always a preponderance of this highly nutritious summer squash. Give zucchini plenty of water and something to ramble on to raise the fruit off the ground. Harvest when fruit are still young and tender—6 to 8 in. long—for best flavor. Squash bugs can suck sap from leaves and stems, leaving vines wilted. You can hand pick the bugs and drop them in a jar of soapy water. Or, if the infestation is bad, spray with a pesticide labeled for edibles. To prevent squash bug infestations from getting started, put a row cover over new plants. Remove when blooms appear to facilitate pollination.
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KalePhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants


Kale is a wonder food that's migrated off the sidelines as a garnish right into the salad bowl as a nutritional superstar. This leafy green often carries a heady price in the supermarket, which is understandable in winter, but not during the growing season, when it's so easy to raise in a home garden. Pick a culinary variety such as frilly kale or dinosaur kale. Ornamental kale is better suited as a pretty companion to mums and pansies. Kale is a cool-season vegetable that does best in spring and fall (the flavor is actually enhanced by a light frost). You can coax it through summer if it has plenty of water and a little afternoon shade.
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EggplantPhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants


Eggplant is an easy-to-grow garden plant when temperatures stay warm enough (it needs a couple months of nighttime temperatures of 70-80 degrees F). In cool summer climates, traditional eggplant varieties grow grudgingly and might not even set fruit, but you can substitute a quick-maturing variety with small to medium-size fruit. Stake plants to compensate for heavy fruit set. Using black plastic mulch or growing eggplant in black plastic nursery containers can help radiate extra heat to help the plants grow. Harvest fruit when full, firm and glossy.
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Swiss chardPhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants

Swiss chard

With its bright pink, orange or yellow stems, Swiss chard is right at home in an ornamental garden. In fact, some gardeners mix it in with their flowers. Although it favors the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, Swiss chard is more heat tolerant than most leafy greens and can sail through summer heat if given rich soil and constant moisture. Add plenty of compost before planting. A mulch of dried grass clippings (from an untreated lawn, of course) or shredded leaves will keep soil from splashing into leaf crevices. You can either sow seeds in spring or plant small Swiss chard seedlings from the nursery. Harvest stems by breaking off two or three outer leaves at a time (younger leaves under 10 in. in length taste best).
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Cherry tomatoesPhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants

Cherry tomatoes

We all know that freshly picked garden tomatoes beat store-bought varieties in taste hands down. But not everyone has the garden space to grow them, right? Well, there are varieties such as 'Patio' that can grow quite nicely in containers. (See tips on container gardening here.) Cherry tomatoes are also a good candidate. As a rule, cherry tomatoes such as these 'Sungold' are more forgiving than other types when it comes to care. The main thing is to give them a fertile, well-drained soil and keep plants evenly watered so the fruits don't split open. A sturdy frame or support will keep plants from sprawling on the ground and exposing fruit to soil. Cherry tomatoes will ripen daily over the summer, so harvest regularly. And if you do grow your tomatoes in a pot, remember that you can easily extend their season by whisking them into the garage when frost is expected.
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Banana peppersPhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants

Banana peppers

Believe it or not, pepper plants are easy to grow. It's the bit about producing peppers that sometimes gets dicey. The reason is, they do best when temperatures are between 65 and 85 degrees. Cooler or hotter than that, and they may stop producing fruit. That's why you'll sometimes see seemingly healthy but fruitless pepper plants in the garden during a heat wave. Banana peppers are an exception and they bear a crop even when temperatures fluctuate above or below the optimum level. There are sweet and hot banana peppers available, so you're bound to find one to your taste.
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BroccoliPhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants


Broccoli is a cool-season member of the cabbage family and is easiest to grow where summers are mild. Hot temperatures tend to make the plant bolt, or go to seed early, so it's important to get broccoli in the garden early enough that it has a couple of months to mature before the heat comes in. Give broccoli plants fertile soil and ample moisture. Harvest the central head when it reaches full size and has plump flower buds. Don't allow flowers to open. If you leave the plant in place, side heads will often develop after the main head has been removed and you can harvest them a few weeks later.
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OnionPhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants


Onions serve so many roles in the kitchen that it's good to know they know their way around the garden, too. There are onions for all regions. All like full sun and a well-drained soil high in organic matter such as compost. You can buy bagged compost or make your own. A neutral pH is best, as acidic soil makes onions more pungent. Water them regularly so bulbs can develop nice and plump. Although you can sow onion seeds directly in the garden, you'll get a jump on the season by planting sets, which are small, dormant bulbs sold in bundles.
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CucumberPhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants


Cucumbers put up with cooler temperatures and a wider range of soils than other melons, making them easier to grow. Like their cousin zucchini, cucumbers are famous for productivity but you'll have to harvest regularly to keep plants producing. Consider doing two plantings (one in spring, one in early summer) to extend the season. A simple trellis will maximize garden space and increase light exposure to the plant and fruit. You can also grow a bush cucumber, a short-vine type that needs no garden support.
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Leaf lettucePhoto Courtesy of Bonnie Plants

Leaf lettuce

Next time you're tempted to buy a bagged salad at the supermarket, think of the money you could save by growing leaf lettuce in your own garden. It's easy, too. You can even do it in containers. Give leaf lettuce a well-drained, loose soil with plenty of organic matter. It comes up easily when self-seeded, but it's a good idea to make successive sowings a few weeks apart so plants mature over a period of time. Leaf lettuce likes cool temperatures and will bolt, or go to seed, in the heat of summer. Some afternoon shade from taller vegetables such as tomatoes will help mitigate temperature extremes. Leaf lettuce needs a good, loose soil. Learn more about creating a good home for your plants here.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.