You don't have to be an experienced gardener to grow your own food. Planting and cultivating a vegetable garden takes time and effort, but it's worthwhile. Nothing beats eating food that you've grown from seed. While some vegetables, like broccoli and asparagus, are difficult for a novice gardener, several kinds take off like gangbusters with just a little preparation and care. To keep your garden safe from rabbits and deer, consider growing your vegetables in a fenced area.
Radishes grow almost anywhere, as long as there is fertile soil and sun. These cool-season vegetables can be tucked into containers or used as a border or between other vegetables in the garden. Plant radishes in late winter, as soon as the soil can be worked. If you want them even earlier, plant them in a cold frame or a window box, according to the University of Illinois Extension. Radish seeds should be sown 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Sow heavily, then thin the plants to three inches as they grow. Keep the soil moist, but do not overwater to avoid rotting the radishes.
The summer squash family includes crookneck, patty pan and straightneck. But possibly the most prolific member may be the zucchini. It's delicious to eat and easy to cultivate. This vine crop grows extremely quickly in the warmth of the summer. Zucchini should be sown about 1/2 inch deep, two inches apart. Leave at least five feet of space around the plant for the vines to grow. Bush varieties may be grown more closely, with only three feet between plants. All squash need a lot of water, and zucchini requires at least one inch of water each week. A 46-0-0 or 27-3-3 nitrogen fertilizer should be applied halfway through the growing season.
In the fall or early spring, it's time to plant lettuce. Although hot summer temperatures will cause this salad favorite to go to seed too quickly, lettuce thrives in cool weather and can even survive light frost. Loose-leaf lettuce grows quickly and is long lasting. Plant lettuce seeds 1/4 inch deep and six inches apart in rows 12 to 18 inches wide. To avoid having heavy garden soil crust over the delicate seeds, cover them lightly with potting soil. Lettuce needs uniform watering, ideally in the morning. Too little water will wilt the leaves and make them bitter.
Tomatoes are the top crop for home gardeners. Any good garden soil that is well-drained and receives at least six hours of full sun can produce tomatoes. Plant tomatoes after all danger of frost has passed. To get a jump on the season, start seeds indoors in late winter or simply buy transplants. You'll have to stake indeterminate varieties, which can grow quite tall and produce through the season. Determinate varieties are more shrublike, and their fruit is harvested within a short period. Tomatoes need deep, frequent watering. They are heavy feeders, and a water-soluble 18-18-21 formula can be applied every two to three weeks.