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Gardening 101: My Top 12 Easy Vegetables To Grow From Seed

Purple Podded, Yellow Wax, and Blue Lake Bush Beans

First and foremost, I just want to remind you that this is all my opinion, based on my own experience, reading, and learning. When it comes to gardening, there is no one be-all-end-all way to do anything. So please take what I suggest here and apply it to your own needs. Try it, use what works, and adapt as necessary. And please share your thoughts and experiences with me, too – we’re all learning and growing.

In Situ vs. Ex Situ

In situ means “in the place,” and refers to seeds you plant directly in the ground; rather than seeds that you germinate in flats and then transplantie, ex situ.

I’m explaining this because I have found that in general planting in situ is easier, faster, uses less resources (water, propagation supplies, time, energy), and creates healthier plants. I did several experiments two years ago. Below you’ll see a drastic difference between butternut seedlings planted in situ and one transplanted after having germinated in the growing rack:

Squash Showdown

In the foreground is a small butternut grown from seed ex situ, and then transplanted. In the background are butternut seedlings planted in situ.

All the seeds were planted on the same day .

Here’s another photo of the same plants (the transplant is in the upper left corner):

Squash Showdown - Different Angle

That’s extreme, but in each of my experiments I found that either the seeds planted in situ produced more rigorous plants, or I found no difference. And if I found no difference, why put myself through the pain of nurturing a seedling in a growing rack when I could just plant it outside with much less effort?

Reasons to Plant Ex Situ

There are reasons to do so. They include: conserving water (you only have to water one tray of plants versus a whole bed), getting a jump start in colder climates (you can start a seedling indoors several weeks before you could plant seeds outdoors), giving the beds another month of benefit from cover crops, being able to control the elements – ie, being able to easily shelter a vulnerable seedling from sun, wind, rain, dryness and cold.

So you have to decide what is best for you, based on your own conditions. My list below includes mostly plants that grow well in situ, because in general I have found that to be the easiest, most reliable way of starting seeds.

Top Twelve Easiest Vegetables to Grow from Seed

1. Beans: pole beans, bush beans, soy beans, lima beans, soup beans, runner beans… any beans. Two years ago, I accounted for every single bean I planted except for three. I finally found those three growing in the front yard – I believe an animal of some kind had carried it away from its original site and planted it there. Of the many, many beans I planted over the last 2 years, every one of them emerged and thrived.

Baby Runner Beans Emerging

Scarlet Runner Beans - detail

Scarlet Runner Beans

One Day's Harvest! Purple Podded, Yellow Wax, and Blue Lake Bush Beans

2. Squash: You saw the squash seeding experiment above. I planted blue ballet squash in Geyserville in mid-August, and we harvested at least 25 squash before the frosts came in mid-November! Here in Seattle we planted quite late last year, plus the summer weather was unusually cold and wet and we didn’t quite give our squash enough space nor light… so we had a tougher time growing them. But I suspect that will change when all the cards aren’t stacked against squash growing this year! They still make my top-12 list because when they grow, they grow and grow and grow!

Baby Blue Ballet Squash

Once upon a time, there was a row in the middle of this photo…

and then it became filled with a deluge of squash:

Blue Ballet Squash Takes Over The World

3. Mesclun Lettuces/Mustard Greens: I’ve planted several mesclun mixes, arugula, red mustard greens, and bronze arrow lettuce. Most of them have done well, whether planted in situ or ex situ. Due to successional planting, we have had wonderful mixed green salads throughout the summer, fall, winter, and spring. (They need protection from high and low temperatures – see this post for more information).

Baby Mesclun

Thriving Mesclun In The Summer (Under Shade Cloth)

4. Beets: I’ve grown several kinds in situ, and all have done well. We eat the greens throughout the winter. And if you leave them in the ground long enough, they become the size of basketballs. Yes, the one my mom is holding below is one of the smaller ones we pulled up last spring!!

Chioggia Beets - Matt's Favorite

Beautiful and Tasty Beet Greens

Mom Vs. Beet

5. Kale: I transplanted these from the growing rack. Every one of them survived the process, and the plants flourished throughout the fall and winter. The sweetest kale I’ve ever had.

Pentland Brig Kale

Red Russian Kale - My Favorite

6. Radishes: A caveat… the first time I tried to grow them, very few came up. But I believe it’s because I tried to germinate them when it was just too hot (90-95F). The second batch I tried grew very well. I grew them beneath the beans, so they had some shelter from the sun and heat. That seems to do the trick, and that’s what I’ve done ever since: grow them beneath something else that lets some light in, but not too much heat.

Radishes grow very fast – if you’re looking for instant gratification, this is the plant to grow. Plus, if you let some go to flower, you will find lots of new beneficial insects coming to your garden. In milder climates, they will bloom through the winter.

Radishes Beneath The Pole Beans

Beneficial Insect On Radish Flower

7. Tomatillos: I transplanted these from the growing rack. They all did well, and produced loads of tomatillos. We made an amazing salsa from them, and hope to plant them again this year. Apparently they are a reseeding annual, meaning they inevitably leave seeds for the following year. I imagine there were a lot of volunteer tomatillo plants in the garden we left behind in Geyserville!

Tomatillo Bushes

Tomatillo Verde, Nearly Ripe

Verde and Purple De Milpa Tomatillos

Ground cherries and huckleberries – cousins of tomatillos – also grow very easily and prolifically from seed.

8. Broccoli: Planted them in situ, and they all came up and did well. Absolutely no complaints, excepting that I would plant them successionally this year rather than all at once. (Ten heads of broccoli ready at the same time is a little much!) Fortunately if you harvest just the head rather than the whole plant, they will sprout new heads laterally on each side for a second, albeit smaller, harvest.

Broccoli Di Cicco

As you can see in the following picture, the flowers are a favorite of beneficial insects. The flowers are edible, too – quite sweet.

Broccoli Gone To Seed With A Happy Bee!

9. Peppers: Yep, it’s true! We grew hot peppers and bell peppers last year, and they did quite well. I started them ex situ, in Geyserville. And then I transported them to Seattle, where they continued to germinate. And then we transplanted them very late, but we still had loads of peppers. As a treat I froze a bag of them, and thaw some every once in a while during the winter for just a taste of summer!

One more thing about peppers: from my experience, it is a myth that they need lots of direct sunlight. They seem to do just fine in partial shade. In Geyserville, my pepper plants were literally beneath my tomato forest, receiving very little light, and they were fine. Here in Seattle, I kept a pepper plant on my fire escape which is north-facing and has very little direct sunlight. And you have seen the fruits of that!

Young Peppers On Rooftop Garden

One Of Several Pepper Harvests - Multiple Types

Chocolate Pepper - My Favorite

10. Potatoes: Very, very simple to grow. You can chit them (more on that here) to get a head start, or just place the whole darn thing in a hole. Then as they grow, mound up the dirt, water them, and in a few months you have lots of potatoes!

Seed Potato To Be Planted

Beautiful Potato Plants

New Blue Potato

11. Garlic: Garlic is even easier than potatoes. There are instructions here. Essentially, you place the cloves in the ground, mound hay over them, water them in the spring, and harvest them in the summer. Only problem is that you need to remember to plant the garlic in the late fall or winter.

Garlic Plants - end of winter

12. Tomatoes: The grand finale. Yes, it’s easy to grow this prize of gardeners everywhere! Last year, I planted lots of tomato seeds, thinking that some would die along the way. Nope. They also moved from Geyserville to Seattle in the back of my car, and they did just fine! When you transplant them, make sure to plant them deeply, so that only the top couple of leaf sets are showing. They will make roots along the buried stem, which helps them support themselves later on.

Tomato Seedlings On Windowsill

Arctic Plenty Tomato - Early Variety


If all this has enticed you to grow something from seed, please join us!

What Do You Find Easiest To Grow?

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43 comments to Gardening 101: My Top 12 Easy Vegetables To Grow From Seed

  • Basil is my top grower. Followed by lettuce.

  • I’ve never grown tomatillos. I might have to try that.

  • Cilantro and basil and lettuce will always reseed themselves in my garden (Zone 7).

  • Peas! Peas are so easy. You don’t even have to water them if you live in the right climate and plant them at the right time. Sugar Snaps are my favorite.

    Beets need steady water to form a root. Otherwise, yep, I agree all those crops are super easy to grow.

    Someone’s going to hate that you put broccoli on that list….

  • I’m with Deb spring peas are so easy to grow where I live – New England (tomatoes are much harder lots of diseases here). Peas do need some support, but you can just shove branches in the soil for them. Some herbs are really really easy: dill, cilantro, parsley, chamomile, sage, thyme. The first four will self seed themselves year after year without any help. The sage and thyme are perennials that will live a very long time – though the thyme may creep from its original spot.

    You missed two reasons I grow plants ex situ. 1. Space considerations/succession cropping. If I’m following a spring plant with a fall plant, sometimes we don’t have a long enough season for the fall plant to grow. So I start it inside and transplant it. I often grow lettuce as seedlings for my succession cropping. I like full heads, not small leaves. When I harvest a head, I plop the already grown transplant in its place. I need a smaller space to grow the same amount of lettuce. 2. Insects. Seedlings have trouble standing up to some insects. When I grow in situ and the boc choi germinates, it lasts about 3 seconds against the slugs and flea beetles. The transplants are large enough at about 3 weeks to survive the onslaught.

  • I second the beets and potatoes.

    As for the butternut, any member of the curcurbit family is very sensitive to having its roots disturbed, I only have good luck transplanting if I use seedlings that sit individually in cells in their growing trays. Trying to start them in undivided large trays almost guarantees failure for me from root damage.

    Tomatoes always seemed to work better ex situ, bury them up to their first set of leaves and they take off like a rocket.

    and kudos for working latin into the post btw.

  • N.

    Beans were by far the easiest thing to grow. I also had good luck with squash and broccoli. Tomatoes were a bit trickier. Being a newbie I experimented a bit until I found the right type of tomatoes and the right way to get the tiny seeds to do anything :)

  • Deb G, I know… I’m waiting. I thought about it a lot… But I plan to make sure Rob has some beautiful broccoli this year!!

    Thanks for your other comments – I’ll be back!

  • Glad to know most of what I’m planning to plant is somewhat fail proof! I hope to start with all of these in the garden this year.

  • Hi Melinda, I’d never heard of the situ, ex situ words before. Thanks for the new knowledge. In addition to your great veggie list I’d add these herbs:
    1. Basil (all varieties)
    2. Parsley
    3. Cilantro
    4. Dill
    5. and Amaranth! Dear lord, how easily the amarantha sprouts!

  • That’s great article, thanks so much… owning your own garden is great I love just walking back and picking my own grown fruits and vegetables… they taste great and you know there is pestisides or any chemicals in your food… I found this short How do plants grow ( article… very interesting

  • Where do you get the seeds for ground cherries and tomatillos? And huckleberries… I’m dying to try those

  • All the above + carrots. We grow a ton of carrots for the house and our family cow. Direct seed, thin, eat and also leave in the ground and harvest as needed. We are eating fresh carrots until April and by then we need a break – soon it’s time to plant again.

  • Hey Melinda!

    I definitely second the beans, and add carrots, onions, and zucchini — mine absolutely thrived last year. One of the things I’m most looking forward to is getting to my new home early enough in the year that I can figure out some planting opportunities.

    Do you happen to know of any New York City-based gardeners from the 2008 Growing Challenge? I’d love to compare notes with them for 2009.

    ~ Lissa

  • Rob

    Sure- put demon-broccoli on the list *&^$### Rub it in .

    As for me, Swiss Chard, radishes, carrots, peas would be on my easy to grow list.

  • I’ve had a ton of luck with potatoes, squash and beans (well, the beans grow, they just don’t produce much). I’m embarassed to say that I’ve never been able to get radishes to grow. They grow but nothing ever happens and eventually they flower and go to see and that’s that. Lettuce is even worse. It just doesn’t grow. I so need to figure out what I’m doing wrong here.

  • I’m seeing there are definitely some easy ones that I missed, and definitely some squabbles about (-cough-) broccoli and carrots… Sorry Rob!

    As for carrots, boy that has been a lengthy discussion among The Growing Challenge participants. I will likely write a post about them soon!

    Broccoli. As I mentioned to Deb G… if I have to come down to Burien and do a dance to make those puppies grow, you will have broccoli this year Rob! : )

    Peas seem to be a big one. I have had trouble with them, surprisingly. Too hot in Geyserville, and too wet in Seattle. Mildew set in. Ick. But I will definitely keep trying.

    Daphne, great points about growing ex situ. I did miss those!! Thank you.

    Kory, thank you very much! Latin always has its place. ; )

    Rachface… fail proof maybe not, but easy for many of us – yep! Read a bit and pay attention to each plant’s needs and you’ll do fine. ; )

    Kendra, good point about herbs. I agree with all of them. Except basil, which can die instantaneously for no apparent reason. It has happened to me a couple of times!

    Bart, thanks for the link – will check it out!

    Jenn, ground cherries and tomatillos… I believe I found tomatillos at Peaceful Valley and ground cherries at SSE. SSE also has tomatillos, though.

    Huckleberries… well, we didn’t like their taste. So um, I’m not sure I’d recommend them. But you can find them at SSE also. They were wonderfully easy to grow, but the berries are small and bitter….

    Lissa, I will post a list of everyone who has joined The Growing Challenge in the next few days.

    GB, Lettuce is very finicky and needs constant watering and not too much heat. I’m guessing neither radishes nor lettuce did well for you because of your heat. You might try planting them under another crop that will shelter them, and/or using shade cloth.

  • Melinda, try planting your peas on Presidents day (if you haven’t done this). Very early I know, but always worked for me in Seattle. There really isn’t any way to avoid the mildew on peas (that I’ve found) when the weather reaches a certain point. When I was living in Seattle, I usually pulled my peas sometime in June and planted beans.

    I’m also wondering if purple sprouting broccoli might be easier to grow than the “regular” broccoli for those having difficulties. It takes longer to get to harvest, but I actually think it’s easier and tastier.

    I found a new veggie to grow-lentils! Not sure how easy/hard they’ll be. :)

  • I wonder if tomatoes are easy to grow the first time, but kind of harder to keep disease-free. My dad’s been having trouble growing tomatoes the last few years, which makes me sad because home grown tomatoes are my favorite thing to eat ever.

  • I just popped some heirloom Amish snap peas. I had 100% germination. They are growing like beasts. Looks like they have that Amish work ethic. :)

  • gigi

    Cel mai prost tradus site…daca tot se traduce din alte limbi, de ce nu folositi oameni?? E cam scump, ce-i drept… Pana si comment-urile sunt preluate…PENIBILI

  • Jaime

    This is a very helpful blog.

    I am not sure if this is kosher, but I have had great success growing tomatos by putting the seeds in a moist napkin spritz with vitamin water (I crushed up a vitamin in water =)

    My tomato seeds would sprout like no ones business, and grew into flourishing plants that gave my grandmother many beautiful tomatos.

    I guess I should try this soiling seed planting business sometime. Maybe, I will start with an herb garden.

    Thank you for the tips!

  • [...] your comfort zone – even seasoned gardeners.  If you are still learning, feel free to grow the easy stuff, or seeds you might have grown before.  If this is old hat for you, you might try to grow [...]

  • Sheena

    I have absolutely no prior experience growing vegetables but I figure it would be cost effective to try. What’s the start up costs for doing something on a balcony at a rental? What should be tried first for someone who does not have a green thumb?


  • swift

    there is a racoon attacking my strawberry paych , how do i get rid of it.

  • Kelli

    One of the problems I’ve had with growing from seed is not knowing which sprouts to pull up when weeding! I know people have figured out how to deal with this, or we wouldn’t have any vegetables… any tips?

  • Nathanial Columbres

    What an article. We love reading it and have pass along to some friends. We wish most of our friend and family will realize how important that we change our habit of using green supply bags instead of regular plastic bags. We hope to spread the word of banning plastic bags to all the cities around the US and even the world.

  • I loved this article. Being a beginner gardener i am starting to try tomatoes in the containers. I hope will do great.

  • [...] where a few of the local homeless can actually get food. I found a blog with recommendations of the best and easier vegetables to start from seed. I just ordered snap peas, carrots, lettuce, bell peppers, tomatoes and watermelon. This should be [...]

  • I loved this article because me and my mom are planning on starting a small garden and wanted to use easy vegetables first so that we could decide on weather to make one or not. Thanks!

  • Stacy

    Thanks for the great article-I live in upstate NY so we can only grow things here for a small part of the year. I must confess-I am never successful at growing anything! Last year I planted everything indoors first and they grew like weeks-I was so excited! When the time came, I carefully planted everythng in the ground, but unfortunatlely nothing grew from there. This year I purchased raised garden beds hoping to be able finally have a garden-do have tips on how plant in a raised garden bed? Am I better off planting the seed right into the soil (in situ)? Thanks for any advice!

  • heather

    Hey guys,
    I’m a newbie to gardening in general. I recently bought a 30×30 plot in order to garden through a broken heart. Any advice, suggestions, recomdendations you can give to a girl who is trying to grow some delicious veggies in the middle of May in the unpredicatable weather of Philadelphia would not only be cherished but needed.

  • I tried in situ planting this year for the first time and boy, have I been happy with it! The peas are going crazy and I’ll harvest a bunch more this weekend. The carrots, swiss chard, lettuce, turnips, mustard, carrots, and beets are very happily growing away. The only thing I didn’t have any luck with were the cabbage transplants. The green cabbage just up and died and the red cabbage languished until now, when I think it is too hot. They will bolt, don’t you think? Next time, I’ll try growing them from seed as well. I have never had the courage to grow tomatoes from seed. I cheat and buy transplants. I think next year I’ll try it your way. In situ is more satifying somehow, isn’t it?

  • I tell you what, this is my first year growing veggies and I find such a wealth of information on this website. Thanks for sharing!

    How did you make the covers for your mesclun? Mine is in absolute direct sunlight, and I’ve been worrying about them.

    Also, I transplanted twelve beautiful tomato plants last Monday. We had an unseasonably cold week and I lost every single one of them. Is it too late to plant some seeds directly in my raised bed?

  • [...] the Bonnie Plants 1-2-3 Raised Bed video to learn how to build your own raised garden bed and One Green Generation for a list of 12 veggies that are easy to [...]

  • Luchrock

    I just made marinara sauce with my black plum tomatoes easy to grow. Great sauce and great finger food.

  • Michael

    Hi everyone, thanks so much for sharing all this wonderful knowledge. Where would be the best place to go to get great seeds? Is there a particular website that someone has done business with regularly or in the past that you can recommend? Thanks in advance.

  • Michael

    by the way I went to my local Home Depot today and bought almost all the seeds talked about on this blog, hope they’ll sprout !!

  • [...] are inspired by green, frugal, sustainable living, you should definitely check it out.  Here is her list of the top 12 easiest vegetables to grow from seed.  Beans, squash, mesclun greens, beets, kale, [...]

  • I successfully grew cherry tomatoes last year but using the Topsy turvy hanging planter things. i also planted a lavender bush that is doing well. today i planted some stargazer lily and tiger lily bulbs but i don’t have high expectations for those as I have never done bulbs before but i still have a huge like 4-5ft in length of empty garden plot. So thought to give a search online and got your article. I would say thank you very much for this wonderful article where i got some good stuffs to grow in my garden.

  • [...] York Times: Michael Pollan Answers Readers’ Questions One Green Generation: Gardening 101: My Top 12 Easy Vegetables to Grow From Seed Organic Foods: Are They Safer? More [...]

  • Susan

    @stacey. I am in upstate by zone 4. Start things like lettuce, peas, chard, kale, carrots, potatoes, garlic, leaf lettuces and broccoli in situ. Things like tomatoes, peppers, basil and other hot weather vegetables are best started indoors or buy plants from a local grower. Good luck!

  • Graham

    Well constructed I have found that Snow peas actually d\grow quicker than peas.

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