Home vegetable gardens can range from just a few pots out on the balcony, a dozen plants staked in the backyard, or a few hundred square feet filled with multiple varieties of many vegetables. Over the years, though, some plants have traditionally worked their way into many home gardens.
According to the National Gardening Association's 2009 survey, the top ten garden vegetables are tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, beans, carrots, summer squash, onions, hot peppers, lettuce and peas. Tomatoes are far and away the single most popular garden vegetable, with new offerings for the gardener each year as rediscovered heirloom plants make their way into the market.
Tomatoes and Peppers
Members of the nightshade family, tomatoes and peppers are found in almost every garden. Both come in endless varieties allowing the home gardener to satisfy any taste or desire for specific recipes. Easy to grow in abundance, and easy to can for the winter, tomatoes and peppers make a natural pairing. Varieties include some that thrive in containers, allowing gardeners with even the smallest spaces to have fresh garden vegetables.
Carrots and Onions
Root plants that are versatile to cook with and easy to grow, carrots and onions provide the home gardener with a lot of productivity for a little work. Proper soil preparation, with loose, well-drained soil, is a necessity. Carrots are normally planted with seeds, and onions with onion sets. It is important to thin the growth to provide room for the underground portion. Root plants are easy to overfertilize, which can lead to small vegetables but large above-ground growth.
The traditional lettuce grown by home gardeners has been butterheads, such as Boston and Bibb, as they are easy to grow, and tender and tasty. But various lettuce mixes are beginning to add variety to home gardens. Mesclun is a popular mix that comes in a mild style with traditional leaf lettuce and chervil, purslane, mizuna and mache. Adding any combination of arugula, cresses, red kale, Asian mustards, red and green chicories, or endive will make a spicy Mesclun.
Lettuce is an early spring and mid-fall vegetable that does not do well in the full heat of the summer. Its fast growing nature helps account for it's popularity. With the proper soil and weather, the gardener can seed, thin and begin eating the lettuce within two weeks.
Beans and Peas
Rich in proteins and other nutrients, beans and peas are legumes, growing their seed in pods and providing nitrogen back to the soil by special bacteria on their roots. Beans come in a multitude of flavors, styles and colors, and may be eaten while still in their pod or dried and prepared separately. They either climb on poles or are bush beans.
Young peas just from the garden are considered delicacies. Like beans, peas can be eaten in or out of the pod depending upon the type. Gardeners who like vertical gardens tend to like beans and peas.
There are more jokes told about the abundance of summer squash than any other garden vegetable, but people still like to plant them in the garden. The best known, zucchini, is cylindrical to club-shaped and usually green but may be yellow or off-white. Summer squash grows prolifically and can take over. Unlike hard squash, summer squash is picked when still immature and only 6-8 inches long. Fast growing, it needs to be checked every day to prevent the squash from growing too large, which would inhibit the growth of younger squash.