10 Easy Foods to Grow and Care for

10 Easy Foods to Grow and Care for

Hi geeks & green-nerds, it’s your friendly neighbourhood gardener Yavanna here. Do you want to grow your own fruits, vegetables or herbs, but you don’t know where to start? Let me help you out here with 10 easy foods to grow, including some explanation on when and how to grow them.


Quick Menu

  1. Strawberry
  2. Courgette / Zucchini
  3. Herbs
  4. Arugula
  5. Beans and Peas
  6. Cucumbers and Gherkins
  7. Rhubarb
  8. Garlic
  9. Peppers
  10. Carrots and Beets

First: some important terms.

Let’s dive straight in by explaining the difference between perennials and annuals, so you don’t accidentally get stuck with a 10-foot tree or find yourself disappointed when your favourite plant dies at the end of season. Annuals are plants that grow and die within the year, like zucchini. Perennial plants stay and can last for many, many years. If they are ‘wintergreen’ or ‘hardy’, they will stay above ground or even keep their leaves. Like rosemary, which stays green all year round. If they are not, they will die off before the winter and grow back up in the summer, like chives. 

In this blog we talk about both perennials and annuals. For annuals, a plant will fit the ‘easy’ label, if it’s easy to grow and low maintenance. For perennials, the growing won’t matter, as you most likely want to buy a mature plant in store or use a cutting. A cutting is a piece of a plant that can grow a new plant! Infinite plants!). So for perennials only maintenance is relevant to determine it’s care difficulty in this article.

Another term I use that you might not be familiar with is presowing. Presowing refers to sowing your seeds indoors, opposed to directly in the soil, in a growing pot. This is essential for warmth-loving plants like peppers and tomatoes.

Lastly, I want to disclaim that this list is based on a Northern-hemisphere climate, as all my experience is based on gardening in the Netherlands. Also, every garden is different! Some plants grow better on clay soil, others on sandy soil. So experiment away to find out what works best for you!

Every listing will start with a summary of the essentials, such as whether to grow from seed or get a cutting, and how much distance you should keep between plants. Let’s get inspired!

Strawberry

  • Plant your cuttings: in September
    Sow seeds: December-January. But really, just get cuttings or small plants from a local farm.
  • Harvest: depending on variety, between June and September
  • Presow? No, get a cutting.
  • Plant distance: about 30x50cm.
  • Perennial
Our strawberry patch

Our strawberry patch


Prime strawberry tip: buy a plant or cutting from a farm. Growing from seeds is unnecessary because strawberries make baby plants like bunnies make baby bunnies. Strawberry plants produce fruit for about 3 years and then need to be replaced with young plants. But since they start making baby plants from year one, you only have to buy once and then you can keep using the babies for your rotation. These baby plants are easily recognizable as they look like part of the plant is running away and making roots somewhere else - which is why they’re called runners!

Strawberry plants can be grown in a hanging pot, standing pot or in the soil. If they are in the soil and you live in a wet climate, cover the soil with woodchips or anti-root fabric for example, to stop the fruit from rotting on the moist earth. This also helps against slugs. If they are in pots, take at least a 20cm diameter pot and make sure they are watered more often to keep the plants from drying out.

For the first year, you’ll want to pinch the first flowers in the spring. Simply use your fingers or  a knife to cut or squash the first flowers. Strawberries overcompensate for losing their first flowers, so the plant makes more (and you get more fruit).

For the first and second year, cut away the runners.

In the third year, let the runners grow and in August you take out the old plants and replace them with the strongest (biggest) runners. 

Honestly, strawberries can be quite independent. The biggest issue I’ve found is aphids. They can destroy your plant. If you have those in your garden, consider planting nasturtiums to distract from the strawberries or spray the plants with garlic-water.

Courgette / zucchini

  • Sow seeds: March-June
  • Plant outside: June-July
  • Harvest: Mostly August, also September
  • Presow? Yes, one seed per pot.
  • Plant distance: about 60x60cm per plant
  • Annual

A courgette plant from above


Courgette or zucchini is a type of summer squash that grows without much fuss. Plant one seed per growing pot (preferably indoors) and wait until it has at least two large leaves before you plant it outside. The biggest thing with this plant is that it requires space - at least 60cmx60cm. It grows large and makes huge yellow flowers (which are edible). Insects pollinate courgette by carrying pollen between the male and female flowers, which makes the plant bear fruit. Pick your courgettes often, because if you don’t they will grow to grotesque sizes and lose a lot of flavor. Also, the inside will become mushy and seedy. It’s better to just pick them when they are slightly larger than supermarket-size. All squash plants tend to develop mildew, a sort of white fungus on their leaves, and they die end of season. 


So pick them before they become this size, oops.


Houston, we have a problem.


If you want to go a step up from courgette, I suggest you try patissons and pumpkins. Patissons are a kind of summer squash, like courgette, but with a thicker skin, like spaghetti squash. Pumpkins are my favourite plants, but they require a lot of space. Other than that, similarly to courgette, they are fast growers and low-maintenance, and oh-so beautiful. Different varieties require different plant distance, but you’ll find all of them take at least 60x60cm, with the largest (Atlantic Giant) requiring 1x2m. We eat massive amounts of pumpkin soup in this household and butternut squash is just the best for that. But this year, we also have Atlantic Giant, Uchiri Kuri, Sweet Mama F1, Baby Bear, Rode van Etampes, and Spaghetti Squash. 


Patisson



Pumpkins, squash, and dried beans 

Herbs

  • Plant perennials: in early spring
    Sow annuals: early spring until July
  • Presow? Yes, multiple seeds together.
  • Plant distance: differs per herb, see recommendations on seed pack. Most perennials require at least 30x30cm.

I divide herbs into perennials and annuals.

Perennials

The easiest perennials are sage, thyme, rosemary, and lavender. Buy a young plant in store or get a cutting, because growing from seed takes a very long time. Once they are mature, they will stay in your garden forever. Rosemary is also wintergreen, making them a beautiful addition to your garden year-round. All of these herbs will survive cold winters just fine. Rosemary and sage enjoy a good amount of soil, so either get at least a 30cm diameter pot or just plant them in the ground. Our sage was very unhappy in a pot but boomed once we transferred it to deeper earth. Lavender and thyme are fine in a pot and honestly, I barely even water them in our wet, Dutch climate. I only recommend you cut them back once in a while, because they can get quite shrubby. 



Foreground to back: chives, thyme, lavender, strawberries, sage, rosemary

An exception to the buy-in-store rule for perennial herbs is chives. Chives is a perennial that retreats after flowering and then pops back up in the spring. It has gorgeous purple flowers that give a gazillion seeds and that are extremely popular with bees (all these perennial herbs are very popular with insects). The seeds can be sown directly into the earth in springtime and they’ll pop up everywhere. I think chives is the easiest herb out of all of them - I ignore my chives and it does just fine. As a matter of fact, I find it exceptionally hard to kill.

And then you have mint. Ah, mint. Let me be clear: mint is a weed. If you look away for a minute, it will take over your garden. Bits of mint will start popping up 10 feet away from your mint bush. Looks like your mint is dying? Nah, it’s just taking a lil’ beauty nap. Next year it’ll come back hard.
I honestly don’t know why we allow people to charge 3 euros for mint tea. That sh!t is everywhere.
So if you like your mint but also don’t want your garden to become a toothpaste farm, put your mint plant in a pot, and bury the plant WITH the pot in the soil, leaving the top centimeter of the pot sticking out. That way, the plant will have a much harder time expanding and taking over your garden.


Mint in a pot in the soil, so it becomes nice and bushy without spreading


Mint infestation

Annual herbs

Annual herbs are easy to grow from seed. We’re talking parsley, coriander, and dill for example. Basil is a bit less easy to grow because it requires a good amount of warmth. Don’t let it dry out either, that’ll kill the plant outright. But as long as it has warmth (think 19 degrees Celsius) and moisture, it will grow without much fuss.

These herbs generally even grow in a small amount of soil, and then can be transferred to a pot inside, or put directly into the earth. As long as you keep them watered, they’ll give you plenty of fresh yumm-ness for your meals. They will die off around autumn, so if you have enough harvest, you can dry them or freeze the leaves for fresh herbs year-round.

Arugula

  • Sow seeds: March-April, then again in September
  • Harvest: A couple weeks after sowing
  • Presow? No, sow directly into the earth.
  • Plant distance: about 7cm between plants.
  • Annual, but perennial varieties exist.

Arugula is in principle an annual. You can grow about 9 of them in a 30cmx30cm square, or a couple in a pot. I’d sow them where you want them - they don’t do that well being transplanted. The young leaves are less spicy than the older ones, so people tend to prefer the young ones. If the plant gets too old, it will grow very large and start to produce seeds, which is convenient if you want to harvest seeds for the next year.

I own a perennial arugula plant variety that grows huge and keeps giving new, tiny arugula leaves. It’s called wild arugula, and I recommend it if you’re not afraid of some kick in your salad.

Really, that’s all I have to say about arugula. It grows everywhere, with ease. It goes well with pizza.

Beans and peas

  • Sow seeds: March-June
  • Harvest: May-September
  • Presow? No, but you may want to germinate the beans on a wet paper towel. Not necessary, though. Just helps against hungry ducks.
  • Plant distance: about 5 cm.
  • Annual.


Chickpeas

Oh my, beans are easy. I always have buckets full that we just can’t eat. There are of course many types of beans, but there are two ways to distinguish them that are relevant for now:

  • Pole or bush beans.
  • Beans that you dry, and beans that you eat fresh.


Pole beans with bamboo support


Pole beans are, as you guessed it, high-growing beans. They require support to grow: like a long stick, fence or another plant. This is called
trellising. These can grow so incredibly high, you need at least 2m of support. You can plant around 3-4 seeds to one supporting stick. Beans can always be sown directly into the earth. I love Diana’s Mooie Moestuin, a Dutch website about gardening, and she explains the perfect way to trellis pole beans in this article. Generic green beans are a good example, or my favorite pole bean: Neckarkönigin. Your seed pack should let you know whether it is a pole or a bush bean.


Soybeans


Bush beans become about 1m in height, maximally. These can be grown without support. If you don’t have room for a trellis or other support, I suggest growing these. Chinese green beans are, for example, super easy.

Beans that you can dry are kidney beans, black beans, white beans and chickpeas. You can simply buy organic, dried beans in store and plant them directly into the soil. That way, you keep multiplying your bean storage. If you want a higher chance of success than with storebought beans, it's of course also possible to buy seeds from a gardening store instead.

Beans that you have to eat fresh (or can or freeze) are green beans and flat beans. Then you have soy beans and borlotti beans for example, which can do both. Easy-peasy!

If you want to harvest dry beans, you have to wait for the plant to die off completely before you can harvest the beans. Check if they are completely hardened, or let them dry a little longer in a sunny spot in your house before you store them. Then you’ll have a healthy protein-rich supply of beans year-round!


Chickpeas

Cucumbers (and Gherkins)

  • Sow seeds: March-June
  • Plant outside: June-July
  • Harvest: Mostly August, also September
  • Presow? Yes, one seed per pot.
  • Plant distance: about 50x50cm
  • Annual


Baby cuke

Presow cucumbers like you do courgettes, in a separate growing pot for each seed. When the plant looks strong and the roots are coming out from under the pot, plant them in your chosen spot with about 50cm between plants. Like courgette, cucumbers need some space. But cucumbers can grow vertically - so you can put them near a support trellis to save space. They actually prefer it that way, because it allows some fresh air on the leaves and helps against rot and mildew. You can even just spin up some string and have them climb up against that. They do better in warm, sheltered environments like a greenhouse. Or so I’ve heard - frankly, my cucumbers and gherkins perform equally well inside and outside of the greenhouse. 

Your cucumber harvest will be more than you can eat, so prepare to can some of them, give them away, or explore this awesome recipe for cucumber-mint jam (also a great way to address your mint plague). If the plant experiences stress (too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet), it will make the cucumbers bitter. The inside of the cucumbers will become white, and the bitterness will be more present near the stem. In this case, throw them out - that bitter stuff is not good for you, similarly to the green stuff in tomatoes.

Rhubarb

  • Plant cuttings: Somewhere in autumn or spring
  • Harvest: April-June
  • Presow? No, get a cutting.
  • Plant distance: about 50cmx50cm.
  • Perennial.

For rhubarb it is best to buy a cutting in the store. Fun fact: you can chop a rhubarb plant up and it will multiply itself (creepy). I’ve learned this from experience as we were redoing our rhubarb plot.

Rhubarb is another perennial, meaning that it stays. It dies off a bit in autumn but comes back strong in spring. They prefer a sunny spot, with just a little bit of shade. For example, behind a greenhouse. Rhubarb grows well near the disregarded parts of your garden or near a bit of water. They don’t like ‘wet feet’ in winter, so make sure the soil drains well. For example: a raised bed near the waterside. 

We harvest the stems in spring, before July, as they get bitter over time. Just leave a few of the inner leaves so it doesn’t die completely. They grow stronger each year so if the first year your harvest is just ‘meh’, rest assured that over time it will get better. Up to the point where you don’t know just how much rhubarb crumble and jam one can consume before getting sick of it.

Garlic

  • Plant: autumn, September-November
  • Harvest: July-September, the next year!
  • Presow? No, plant directly into the earth.
  • Plant distance: about 7-10 cm per bulb.
  • Annual.

Garlic is another one of those ‘just throw it in the ground and forget about it’-type plants. If you take your store-bought garlic, and separate the bulbs, you can plant them with the flat part down and sharp part up, just under the earth. I leave about 7-10 cm between the bulbs. They will take root, make shoots, and next summer you have your fresh garlic. Easy, right?

Cayenne or jalapeno peppers

  • Sow seeds: January-February, in a warm spot
    Plant outside: late May-July, as long as the plants are strong and it’s over 19 degrees outside. Or keep inside.
  • Harvest: August-October
  • Presow? Yes, multiple seeds per pot.
  • Plant distance: about 20cmx20cm per plant, or 3 plants in a 50cm space.
  • Annual (though in a hot enough climate they can persist).


Spice up your life

Ok, I hear you gardeners: peppers are hard. But not all varieties will make you want to scream. Cayenne and jalapeno plants are relatively easy.

Always presow your pepper seeds in January-February. Pepper plants are so incredibly slow, you may even forget you sowed them in the first place. Most importantly: the seeds need a consistent temperature of 18/19 degrees Celsius or higher to germinate. Which is why you should grow them inside, preferably in a warm, sunny spot or near your heater. But once you get them to germinate, they are pretty easy. 

You can transplant them once they have two leaves, but in my experience it’s better to wait a little longer with peppers. I actually sow a lot of seeds in small pots, then separate the seedlings into slightly larger pots, and then plant them in my greenhouse once they look strong and healthy. I plant 3 of them together, which somehow makes them grow better. If you do this in a pot, take at least a 50cm diameter pot. If you just plant one, a 20m diameter will do. 


Holy Jalapeno!


Pepper plants CAN get really big, in which case they require support, but if you just grow them in a pot they won’t get really big. A big pepper plant can yield over 20 peppers, a small one will yield about 5. Peppers in pots produce fewer fruit than peppers in the soil. 

Harvested cayenne peppers can be frozen or dried. Jalapeno peppers can be canned, frozen or turned into hot sauce (in which case you may want to wait for them to turn red, which makes them hotter). 


Fermenting Jalapeno mush and pickled radishes. Also, coffee in the background. 

Carrots and beets

  • Sow seeds: March-September
  • Harvest: May-November
  • Presow? No, sow directly into the earth.
  • Plant distance: about 2cm for carrots, 10cm for beets, then thin out later.
  • Annuals.

Carrots and beets are root vegetables. You can sow loads of them in rows and as long as you water well, they’ll come up easily. There is but one trick to carrots and beets: well-draining soil. For the roots to be able to grow, the soil needs to be a bit loose, otherwise they just can’t grow. 

Thin them out if it looks like there are too many plants near each other. Especially beets need some space. We plant beets and carrots next to each other in a separate, raised garden bed with loose soil. But you can also grow them in a pot or bucket. Really, they aren’t that demanding. They need some sun but not a lot. Warmth isn’t really super important.

One thing that is super cool about root vegetables is that they last long. If they’re done, you can just keep them in the earth. Lots of rain can make them rot, so if you live in a wet climate it might be better to pick them and store them in some damp sand. We harvest our carrots, which mature in summer, until well into the winter. Beets are sensitive to frost though, so harvest them before the first frost and put them somewhere cool and dry or even put them in a bucket of sand and they’ll keep. Or can ‘m, why not?

Get Gardening!

If you’re low maintenance, tomatoes aren’t for you. Neither are cabbages, as oh boy, are they heaps of trouble. But luckily there are plenty of yummy things you can grow in containers or pots, or in your backyard with very little effort. And some plants are so easy that they are basically weeds (looking at you, mint). If you want to get some more help on the basics of growing food and gardening, feel free to check out our beginner's video on Youtube. I hope that this little rundown has helped you pick some plants that you would enjoy growing. Remember to always follow the advice on the seed packet, and treat your plants with love <3

Even if you’re a lazy plant mom like me. 


P.S.: You may notice I didn’t put radish up on here, the easiest beginner-friendly crop to grow. Mostly, because it’s just not so exciting, it’s included in all the easy-to-grow lists already, and most people I know unfortunately think it’s gross. But I do grow radish and pickle them. So now you know: radish is hella easy.


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