Garden Plants for the “Vegetable-Challenged”

Author: Jake Lambrecht

There is a practical side to having a vegetable garden. You want to be able to eat what you grow. It is certainly disappointing to have a flower garden that flops, but likely, you weren’t planning on eating your flowers. When a vegetable garden doesn’t work, it is another level of sadness. Your plants may have died AND you didn’t even get to harvest from them. Admittedly, any garden has a wide array of growing needs, but there are plants that are quite simple to grow. Here are a few suggestions and tips.

Garlic: By far, one of the easiest plants to grow. They are planted in fall when the heavy garden workload is done so your time will not be spent on other garden tasks. Garlic also is one of the first plants growing in spring, sometimes even in snow. This gives you a great opportunity to stay on top of the weeds. Garlic is relatively pest free and most wildlife does not seem to enjoy it. In spring, some garlic varieties will send up a curly pigtail shoot from the top of the plant called a “scape”. This is the flower of the plant. Breaking or pulling this shoot off will dramatically increase the size of the bulb below ground. Harvest garlic when the bottom 4 leaves are beginning to turn brown and dry out. Tip: The scape is delicious and is widely used in recipes for garlic flavor.

Spring radishes: If you like their flavor, you can’t beat these for their ease of growing. Along with salad mix, it is one of the earliest to harvest, reaching maturity in as little as 25 days. They can be planted as early in the spring as your garden will allow. There are bugs that will enjoy the leaves, but the roots are generally left alone. They take up very little garden space and you can plant another crop in the same area after they are finished. Tip: Pick radishes when they are the size of a large marble (1 inch in diameter or less). Plant in early spring or late fall.

Kale: The benefits of this edible plant are that it is extremely cold hardy, takes up minimal space and serves as a beautiful ornamental. Plant in mid-summer for a late fall crop. It is also a nutritional powerhouse and one of the last greens available before winter. Kale is enjoyed raw or cooked and can be harvested at any stage of growth. On mature plants, break the leaves off by bending downwards. Let the smaller leaves to grow larger if you like. Tip: Consistent hard frosts, and even freezes, will cause kale to sweeten.

Beans: Wait until early June to put beans in the ground since they need warm soil to germinate well. Beans need to be picked about every 3 days to avoid pods that are stringy and tough. Look for “bush” beans for optimal space usage instead of “pole” beans which will require trellising for support. Beans come in a wide array of colors and can be planted several times throughout warm weather for a continuous supply. Tip: If you don’t want any more fresh beans, leave the plants to grow past maturity, harvest the dried out pods and save the beans for use in the kitchen.

Zucchini: This warm weather plant produces prolifically. Remove the green and yellow striped cucumber beetles as you inspect the plants, especially in the early summer when the plants are young. Harvest zucchinis by cutting them at the stem with a sharp knife when they are between 5-8 inches long for the most tender fruits. Tip: They are frost sensitive, so make sure you pick any remaining fruits before cold weather sets in.

Beets: One of the valuable traits of beets is that the entire plant is edible at any stage of maturity. Beets are fairly tolerant of all weather with the exception of extreme heat. In Wisconsin they can typically be grown all summer long. After planting, keep your seed bed well watered until germination. Beets can be harvested at any size, however the smaller golf ball sized beets are the most tender. Tip: Beet greens can be plucked from the plant when young and tossed right into salads. The plant can be left to grow and harvested later on.