What Plants Are the Best for a Vegetable Garden?

Peas (Edible Pod)

Peas are one of the first crops to plant in spring, and with a short season of 50 – 60 days, one of the first to harvest. Peas need well-drained soil and do well in raised beds and large planters. Most varieties also need a medium height trellis (3 – 4′) to climb, although some will grow more than 6’ so be sure to check your seed package before planting. Peas are commonly sown directly into the ground from seeds, and they should be sown thickly.

However, they can also be sprouted indoors which can ensure success in damp conditions. (Tip: When sprouting indoors, prepare a shallow dish with water that has a tablet of vitamin C dissolved into it. Set in the seeds to sprout and cover with an absorbent cloth to keep moist. This will increase the size of the plants and the peas.) Stagger the planting time every two weeks to extend the harvest. Peas also contribute to the health of the soil by fixing nitrogen.

Lettuce

Many varieties are available. Large, head-forming lettuces like iceberg and butterhead can be planted single file in rows, which makes mulching easy, while smaller leafy varieties can be thickly planted in swaths 24″ wide for a ‘self-mulching’ effect. Ideally, grow several varieties of each type. Small lettuce transplants can also be interspersed throughout the garden wherever there is room.

A common problem with lettuce is ‘bolting’. Bolting occurs when the plant goes to seed and the leaves stop growing. Bolting is caused by temperatures that are consistently too high. To prevent bolting, plant lettuce in shaded area or plant next to a shading crop such as tomatoes or peas. Heat-tolerant varieties are also available. Check with your local seed provider to find cultivars best suited to your area.

Broccoli

This member of the Brassica family is highly valued because of its nutritional value and long period of productivity. Growing broccoli at home can also provide relief for the pocketbook because broccoli is so expensive to buy. Broccoli can be over-wintered, providing new shoots with small clusters which are much appreciated through the winter.

Sow brassicas directly from seed into the ground or in small starter pots. Starter pots are recommended because the seedlings are easier to protect from birds and slugs, and they can be moved indoors in inclement conditions until they are strong enough to transplant. Brassica crops should be grown on different beds (rotated) each year. Since broccoli can also be sensitive to hot weather, plant during early spring or late summer and mulch surrounding soil well to keep soil temperatures down.

Barrier Paper for Broccoli Seedlings:

Scraps of waxed cardboard from milk cartons are a simple defence against cabbage moths. Cabbage moth larvae kill young sprouts of the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower).

Cut into 2″ squares and slit one side into the center; make another small slit crossways. Slide the square so the seedling stem is in the center. This prevents the moth from laying eggs at the base of the sprouts. Leave in place – as the plant grows it will push the slit open wider. Be sure to apply as soon as the sprout appears.

Tomatoes

There are many varieties to choose from for cherry, table, and paste tomatoes. Most plants will need tall stakes, which should be set when the plants are transplanted. Some people prefer to use wire cages or other staking methods.

Whatever you choose, the plants will need to be tied to the stakes as they grow, which takes a little time. Tomatoes do best when their leaves are kept dry. A simple shelter can be constructed for clear plastic sheeting to cover the plants; the sides can be left open. A layer of mulch will prevent rain splash from wetting the lower leaves, and will help retain moisture in the upper soil. While the transplants are growing in pots, till some green grass clippings into the soil where the tomatoes will be planted. This will warm the soil and give the young seedlings a boost when transplanted.

Garlic

Where winter is mild, garlic is usually planted in the fall, before the frost. Garlic can also be planted in early spring. Separate and plant cloves base down, 2″ deep. To harvest, lift bulbs out when leaves die after plant blooms. Save several heads for next season’s crop. You’ll only have to buy garlic once for the initial planting, so buy quality certified disease free bulbs from a seed catalog.

Peppers

Easy to grow, peppers are commonly started early in small pots and transplanted when it’s warm enough outside or in the greenhouse. Pick off any small peppers that may form on transplants or the plant growth will be stunted. Pick the green peppers as soon as they reach size; this will stimulate new fruiting and increase the yield per plant. You can leave one or two plants unpicked if you want the peppers to sweeten and turn red or yellow; however, these plants will produce fewer peppers.

Onions and Leeks

Slow to mature, at 3 – 5 months, onions and leeks need moist soil with good drainage. Purchasing onion ”sets’ or small bulbs will shorten the time to maturity by 4 – 6 weeks. Plant onions early in the season and sow thickly. They secret to large bulbs is to provide warmth early; this can be done by covering the shoots with a row cover or cloche, and tilling some green grass clippings into the soil before planting. Harvest when the onion tops turn yellow and wither.

Swiss Chard

Easy to grow with few pest problems and a long productive season, Swiss chard lends itself to many recipes or salads because it’s equally good cooked or raw. Chard can be grown from transplants or direct sown into the garden beds. You can now choose from an array of colorful options, too. To discourage leaf-miners, do not plant chard near spinach or beets. Row covers can also be used to protect chard from leaf-miners.

Beans

While there are many varieties of beans, they can be generally classified into bush beans or pole beans. Bush beans grow to about knee-height and can be planted in front of taller plants like tomatoes. Pole beans grow tall and require support in the form of tall poles or a trellis.

Pole beans should be grown in the back of the garden so they don’t shade other plants. Beans should be sown directly into the ground from seeds, as they do not take well to transplanting from smaller pots. Stagger the planting times to extend the harvest.