The Practical Prepper
Whether you're planning a traditional, larger garden or doing some container gardening, deciding what to grow might be challenging, especially if you're new to gardening. Here's a list of ten things that are pretty easy for newer gardening to successfully grow, harvest, and use.
- Beans: There are many different kinds of beans, and many bean varieties (e.g., pole beans or broad beans) like to grow upward. They can do well when seeds are planted directly into warm soil with something to climb or support them, like a string or a trellis. Bush beans are very productive, don’t require any staking, and grow quickly. Plant your bean seeds in well-drained soil where they’ll receive full sun. Many bean varieties produce for an extended period, but you may want to sow seeds every few weeks to enjoy a continual harvest throughout the season. I prefer to pick my beans when they're a bit small, since they are typically a little crisper and sweeter. Beans are very easy to freeze and/or can, too.
- Beets: Grow these, and you get two vegetables for the price of one! Most people think beets as the beetroot itself. However, you can eat the beet greens too. We eat baby beet greens raw in salad, and cook larger ones as we do chard or kale. As with many highly colored vegetables, beets have phytochemicals that are believed to boost immunity and improve cardiovascular health. You can plant your beets as soon as your soil can be worked in the spring. Till your soil, remove any rocks (which can deform the beet root), and plant each seed 2 inches apart. Although they are tolerant of heat, beets actually grow best a cooler temperatures of 60–65°F. They can withstand cold weather short of severe freezing, making them a good long-season crop. With a cold frame and reasonably moderate weather, beets will store well in the ground and the greens can be eaten throughout the winter. Of course, the longer you leave the beets to grow, the larger they become.
- Carrots: A enduring favorite, carrots can be eaten raw, or cooked in a wide variety of ways. Another brightly colored vegetable, carrots are high in vitamin A, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. You can plant them as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. They like full sun, but don't prefer very hot weather, so the next time to plant them after spring is late summer. Carrots do best in deep, loose soil with consistent moisture. Till your soil well or use a deep container. As with beets, be sure to remove any rocks, which can result in deformed carrots. Dig holes less than an inch deep with several inches between them, and plant a two to three seeds in each hole. Make sure that the soil stays moist but remember to water the carrots less as they begin to reach maturity. Once the seeds sprout and are 1–2 inches tall, thin them by pulling out any extra carrots and just leaving the healthiest sprout to mature. Carrots are ready for harvest when the top of the root breaks through the top of the soil.
- Lettuce: With a wide variety of types to choose from, lettuce is easy to grow and is an excellent choice for container gardening. It does best in cooler weather, so plant it in the spring or in the fall after the heat of summer is over. Plant as seeds or young plants, as you prefer. Either way, make sure they’re planted between 8 and 16 inches apart and get shade in the afternoon. Give them plenty of water. Some people recommend watering lettuce only in the morning and claim doing so at night can causes disease; we typically water our plants in the evening and have never experienced that. When it is very hot out, most lettuces need more shade. Fortunately, they do well when planted in the shade cast by taller plants (e.g., tomatoes or beans). The great thing about lettuce is that you can have a continual harvest by pulling leaves off the heads as they mature.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are very good for you! They are rich in nutrients like niacin, potassium, and phosphorous; antioxidants like lycopene, anthocyanin, and carotene; and vitamins A, C, and E. They also very versatile and can be used raw or cooked in many, many ways. After the last frost of winter has passed and the ground is thawed, pick a spot in your yard that receives ample sunlight. Tomatoes can be finicky about the soil's pH level (preferring between 6 and 7), but we haven't had too much problem with that. They typically require a fair amount of nutrients in the ground, so adding compost is a good idea. Early on, we also use Miracle-Gro® Tomato Plant Food, which has worked quite well for us. Tomatoes are often easiest to grow from starter plants, which you can either plant yourself from seed indoors or buy from a local greenhouse or nursery (we've almost always had better luck with the latter). When transplanting your tomato plants, leave at least a foot in between plants for growth. Also, plant them deeply, so that only the top couple of leaf sets are showing. Roots will form along the buried part of the stem, which helps support the plant later on. Water them a couple times per week; overwatering your tomatoes (or overfeeding them with Miracle-Gro) can kill them. Once in the ground in a spot with full sun, most varieties of tomatoes will be extremely prolific. Be sure to stake the plants, or put tomato cages around them early on, to keep them from laying over on the ground as the fruit gets heavy. A tip I learned from my dad: marigolds planted around and in between your tomato plants will prevent horned worms from causing problems.
So, there are five plants to get you started; next week, we'll list five more. In the meantime, please comment below to let us know what plants you've had the most success with!
Believing that preparedness and self-reliance are key to individual freedom, Atticus Freeman is the founder of the Self-Reliant Info blog, in addition to authoring The Practical Prepper weekly blog here on Farm Dreams. Thanks for reading!