Growing your own food brings a host of benefits, and you don’t need to plant half your backyard to reap them. You can start with just an herb plant or two, a bed of seeds, or a few young tomato seedlings. What are those benefits? Growing food is soothing. It’s nutritional. It’s educational. It brings you closer to the earth while making dinner taste a little better.
All you need is a yard, patio, or access to a community garden. Once your seeds or seedlings are planted, they need only sunlight, water, and time. Start with these plants for the easiest road to home-grown herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
You can have a radish crop a month from planting seeds. You don’t need exceptionally deep soil, as you do for other root vegetables, like carrots. You don’t need to be too strict about spacing out seeds, at least for smaller radishes. Begin by thinking about what radishes you prefer. Peppery? Milder? Look into a nursery or seed bank for varieties that match your preferences and can visually enhance your food, like black radishes, watermelon radishes, or Easter egg. Radishes can even do well with partial days of sun.
If you’re looking for the easiest edible plant, look no further. Garlic grows faster than weeds. A head of garlic, of course, has many cloves. Well, each of these can be planted skin-on. Simply bury a garlic clove in shallow ground, with its pointy tip facing the sky. With water and a few days, a green shoot will surface, climbing higher at a surprising rate. In time, that underground clove will grow into a new head of garlic—one that can improve cooking, one whose cloves could be planted and become many more plants.
You’ll have to hold off for hot weather to plant zucchini, at least until temperatures stay in the 70s. You’ll find it worth the wait. Zucchini grows to hilariously big sizes. (But you’ll actually want to pick them when small or medium—when they taste better.) Be sure you plant zucchini far apart from one another, at least three feet, as they tend to sprawl (though not as much as other squash, like pumpkin). Be sure to water regularly. The best part about growing zucchini might be how well it pairs with other easy-to-grow plants, like garlic, mint, and tomatoes.
You can grow mint with a minimum of gardening skills. The problem with mint, actually, is that it’s often too productive. Mint can spread into unwanted areas. To prevent this, confine mint to a pot. You won’t need more than one or two initial plants. In time, they’ll likely spread through the pot from rim-to-rim, flavoring breezes with their scent.
Tomatoes require regular water and stakes, which can be a hassle. But given ample sunlight (direct sunlight for the large majority of the day), heat, water, and protection from hungry wild animals and pets, tomatoes are relatively easy to grow. Generous watering helps to ensure the fruit doesn’t crack. Plant them in summer, as they need lots of heat. Simply put, tomatoes are unrivaled when eaten bursting ripe right off the garden vine.
You can begin planting strawberries early in spring. They’re one of the easiest fruits to grow—just small plants rather than bushes, trees, or vines. The very small, intensely flavorful berries that grow in home gardens are nothing like the watery monsters from the grocery store. Just remember this: there won’t be a whole lot of berries come time to pick them, but those small berries will pack a serious punch.
Another vegetable that isn’t picky, cucumbers can be ready a month and a half after planting. You can trellis cucumbers, and the plants will start to creep vertically, giving you more soil space for other plants. Try your hand at lesser-known varieties, like the ball-shaped, mildly citrusy lemon cucumber. You’ll want hotter weather before you plant. And once cucumbers start to produce, you’ll likely get so many that you can pickle some, carrying their home-grown goodness well beyond their season.