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Where to Begin? Easiest Veggies for a First Garden

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If you've been bitten by the garden bug, you're ready to get your hands dirty. Working the soil and putting in those seeds or seedlings is exciting, but first you need to make the tough decision about what to plant. A first garden is more fun if you don't set the bar too high, so pick vegetables that virtually guarantee success. Here are five fast growing vegetable choices that will make you look good as a gardener and taste great on the table, too.

1) Growing Lettuce Varieties

Lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in the garden. Home-grown heads are much more delicious and nutritious than those in the grocery. Most lettuce fall into one of four basic types:

  • butterhead: large, soft-as-butter leaves that are sweet and tender
  • crisphead (iceberg): tight, "cabbage head," pale leaves
  • loose leaf: large, loosely-packed leaves joined at the stem
  • romaine (cos): dark leaves forming a loose loaf-shaped head

Growing tips: Lettuce is cool-season crop for spring. It's simple to grow in loose, well-draining soil and works well in containers. Fertilize the soil three weeks after planting and keep the soil moist but not wet. Harvest loose-leaf varieties as the outer leaves mature, but for other types, wait until the head is full size to harvest.

2) Growing Kale

Rich in minerals and vitamins A and C, kale is another cool season veggie to plant between early spring and the start of summer or in fall. Use the young, leafy foliage in salads or soups, or cook the leaves as a side veggie like spinach, but remove the tough stems first.

Growing tips: Before seeding kale, blend 5-10-10 fertilizer into the soil, a cup for every 25 feet of row. Plant seeds about 1/2 inch under the soil surface, water regularly, then watch the seedlings grow. After a few weeks, thin the sprouts to a foot apart. Start harvesting when the kale leaves are palm-sized.

3) Growing Potatoes

America's favorite vegetable? Potatoes, of course, one of the easiest plants in a veggie garden. Potatoes are underground storage stems called tubers that grow some 6 inches below the soil surface. They like to grow before or after the hot summer weather and do best in the northern sections of the country.

Growing tips: You grow potatoes from seed potatoes. Cut big seed potatoes into chunks with "eyes," then let the chunks sit two days before planting. Set the chunks in a 6-inch trench with compost at the bottom, then cover with 4 inches of soil. After the sprouts are 6 inches tall, add another 4 inches of soil. Do this again a few weeks later, mounding the soil on top and providing a few inches of water per week. Harvest new potatoes a few weeks after flowering, or mature potatoes a few weeks after the foliage dies back.

4) Growing Parsley

Parsley is a garnish like no other, whether you grow flat-leaf or curly-leaf varieties. With bright, green leafy leaves, parsley packs a vitamin punch with A and C. It serves as an excellent salt-substitute in salads and soups. It also looks great in the garden and is one of those "can't fail" veggies that seem to thrive anywhere.

Growing tips: Parsley leaves may look delicate, but the plant is a tough cookie and you can plant it before the last spring frost. Use a weed-free bed with rich, moist soil for your parsley, and space the seedlings about 6 to 10 inches apart. You can start harvesting leaves from the outside of the plant when the leaf stems develop three segments.

5) Growing Zucchini

Zucchini is a summer squash, harvested soft and eaten skin and all. These plants are among the more certain success stories you will have in the garden. The plants are compact vines and famous for growing bumper crops. A couple of them might well provide more than enough for your household, even if you gift some to the neighbors.

Growing tips: Plant zucchini in a sunny site after the soil is warm, after the last frost. If you plant seedlings, be gentle with the roots. Select a site with well-drained soil, and work in organic compost to keep hungry zucchini plants happy. Water deeply once a week. Add fertilizer after the first blossoms appear, then add more once you start harvesting.

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