Growing edibles in your garden is a great xeric strategy, because you can add foliage that cools areas around your home, blooms and fruits for aesthetics, and mostly put water use toward growing food for you and your family.
Switching from caring for a few house plants to “having a vegetable garden” seems like a daunting task for home gardeners, especially those with limited space. But it doesn’t have to be, if you start small with one or two of your favorite, easy-to-grow edibles.
Before I start the list, let me say this: I can’t really think of any herb or vegetable that can’t be grown in a container. Sure, it might take a large container and cages or other supports to manage a spreading or vining plant, but why not try?
- Salad greens, which grow easily from seed. I vote for arugula (which is technically an annual herb), but any loose greens grow quickly. Just give them plenty of drainage and shade in warmer weather. Lettuces do best in cooler or moderate temperatures, which makes them a perfect starter plant. In fact, if it’s too late to start a garden in your area right now, vow to start some lettuce at the end of the summer season when all the other gardeners are tired of weeding and eating giant zucchini. Proudly display your home-grown salad in the lunchroom at work.
- Okay, I have to go ahead and suggest zucchini. I’ve got an area where I’m trying some vegetables this year – where the soil is not as rich as it is in our vegetable garden. The zucchini plant is thriving. Give them warm, moist soil. So well around the seed and plant. And pick them before they become giant!
- Rosemary is the easiest herb to maintain. You’ll need to buy the plant, not start it from seed. But you can take cuttings from a pint-sized plant soon after placing it in a container. Don’t overwater it, and be sure it gets sun at least half of the day. In addition, rosemary is a perennial in all but the coldest zones, so you can enjoy it all year.
- Green beans. Bush beans take less space, but I prefer the pole varieties. We switch their spot in the garden each year so they’re near various fences, but I’ve seen plenty of clever teepees and other methods of support. I’ve had close to 95 percent success with green bean seeds, planted about six inches apart. They like lots of organic matter in the soil. I think harvesting green beans is one of my favorite activities, sort of like a hunt. They’re easy to blanch, ice and freeze for year-round dishes.
- Cucumbers. I have had a little trouble this year getting my cucumbers started, but I still maintain that they’re easy to grow. The first seeds didn’t come up because the weather turned cool, so we tried again and had great success. Once the seedlings come up, the plants grow quickly. My biggest problem this year is in the area near a rock wall – the rock wall that doubles as a snail hotel. I can see the slime trail on the dirt where the cucumber seedling used to be. Next up? Cucumbers in containers. And pickles, lots of pickles. That’s a great solution for kids who turn their noses up at cucumbers, but love pickles.
- Cilantro. Also easy to establish from seed (which is coriander). Just be sure to put the seed where you plan to keep it, because cilantro does not take well to transplanting. I think it’s really attractive in pots, resembling parsley with its bright green leaves. Keep it trimmed for good health, especially in hot weather. The best way to do that is to eat it.
- Carrots. Once you’ve eaten a fresh, home-grown carrot, you will never feel the same way about store-bought ones. They’re easy to grow from seed; the hardest part is thinning them because you just don’t want to give any up. They prefer full sun when possible and need deep soil with lots of organic matter. We grow most of ours in containers because our soil is so rocky. And because of gophers. It’s bad enough when they gnaw on a plant’s roots. It’s really awful when the root is the part of the plant I like to eat.
- Cherry or grape tomatoes. I hesitated to put tomatoes on the list because I think they’re sort of picky. But there are so many varieties today that I think the trick for the home gardener is to either choose the best variety for their location and situation (in our case, a short growing season; for others, it might be heat or shade). But to have success with your first tomato plant and not have to worry about splitting and other problems, I suggest growing a cherry or grape tomato right on your patio. Because the fruit is smaller, you don’t have to wait as long for it to ripen. I think that makes these smaller varieties less susceptible to problems. The best part? Pick it right off the plant and pop it in your mouth or add it to that salad you’re taking to work.