Lettuce is great because it grows quickly, and you can harvest the outside leaves while it’s growing. It does best with cooler temperatures, and can tolerate shade. Unlike some vegetables, everyone knows how to eat lettuce.
Once they emerge from the soil and develop four true leaves, not much bothers bush beans. They don’t tolerate freezing temperatures, and will mature mid-summer. These are delicious raw (with Ranch dip!) or steamed (with butter).
Basil grows quickly and easily, and harvesting leaves and/or pinching off the ends actually promotes more growth! It is the easiest herb to grow, and unlike Thyme and Rosemary, I find lots of uses for it while cooking.
Growing onions for storage can be full of misadventures, but it’s almost impossible to mess up green onions. Plant sets or transplants (not seeds) purchased at a local nursery or home and garden store. They can tolerate cool weather, but will continue to grow during warmer temperatures. Green onions are great in salads, stir fry, soups, and more!
Snap or Snow Peas
In my opinion, there is nothing better than fresh peas! The snap and snow varieties allow you to eat the shell, so you get more bang for your buck. Plant these early, as soon as you can work the soil. It’s best if they have a trellis for support. Again, peas are great in soups and stir fry, in salads or with dip.
Zucchini or Summer Squash
Let’s face it, zucchini grows like a weed. I think one plant is more than enough for a family of four. The problem with zucchini is not growing it–it is the most fool-proof of all vegetables. The real challenge is finding enough recipes to eat it all! Try zucchini quiche, Ratatouille, brownies, and patties in addition to the standard bread.
I put tomatoes toward the end because they are not the easiest to grow, but I consider them an essential element of any garden. Your success is greater if you try growing grape or cherry varieties. Tomatoes cannot tolerate cold temperatures AT ALL, in fact the night time temps must be warm enough or it won’t flower or set fruit. Be careful not to use too much fertilizer, or you’ll have large, leafy plants and no tomatoes!
Choose a variety based on how you want to eat them–cherry, slicing, salad, paste. I love them in salads, cooked with basil on pasta, in fresh salsa, YUM!
Cucumbers are relatively easy to grow, but they take up a lot of space. You can let them sprawl, and then hunt for your harvest, or trellis them. The secret to cukes is to keep them in full sun, but give the roots some shade. Harvest and use them on sandwiches, salads, or plain with salt or rice vinegar.
Last but not least, I include beets. I put it last because, really, who eats beets? However, they are easy to grow and don’t take long between planting and harvest. If one crop fails, you have a chance to try again (and again) before the summer is over.
If you don’t love beets for the root, grow them for the greens. They are a great and healthy addition to any salad, and with enough butter, even I can enjoy them lightly steamed.