Low-Maintenance Easy to Grow Vegetables for Every Type of Garden
A few years in to having a several types of vegetable gardens, I’ve learned what are the easiest, lowest-maintenance, highest-reward veggies to grow, no matter your space – raised beds, right in the ground, even small-space container gardens.
Even if you only have a little pot on a fire escape, you can grow an herb garden. Parsley almost always thrives, as does mint (though keep it separate or it will choke out everything else). Rosemary and thyme are very drought-resistant, while basil needs more water. Sage also requires little water, bay leaf is a slow grower but a little goes a long way. Tarragon is the mystery guest – sometimes it thrives beautifully and sometimes it peters out, with the exact same conditions year-to-year. If you do nothing else, having an herb garden is the way to go! Plus, rosemary dries beautifully, and you can freeze thyme to use through the winter. If you end up with a lot of any herb in the fall when you know it’s going to die off soon, heat up olive oil to a low simmer, take off the heat, put the herbs in a jar, pour warm oil over them, cap and wait. You will have deliciously infused olive oil (note this doesn’t work with basil and mint).
Cherry tomatoes grow well in containers, they thrive in the ground or in raised beds, kids love picking and eating them, and the reward is high, because growing them yourself they are much better than you get from the store. They also work in so many things – as a snack, with dip, in salads, I’ve even grilled green cherry tomatoes on skewers with a little olive oil and salt (delicious). My favorite cherry tomatoes are sungolds. Tomatoes need lots of sun, and you want to water them in the morning keeping water on the ground away from the leaves. The only ‘real’ work is planting them.
The trick that has served us so well with tomatoes when planting is to dig a deep hole, cut off the leaves at the base, and only leave the tip-top of the baby tomato plant coming out of the ground. This allows the tomatoes to form a strong root system. You also want to find some way for them to support themselves as they get larger, but there’s lots of inexpensive options out there for tomato trellises.
SUGAR SNAP PEAS
We’ve done lots of varieties of peas, but sugar snaps are by far the best. They grow fast, they are easy to ‘clean’ relative to other peas (you just take the vein off the front and the back), and you can eat the shells. They are sweet and amazing in salads, you don’t even need to cook them. A gourmet no-cook dish is taking burrata or fresh Mozzarella with cut up sugar snap peas and drizzling it with a little balsamic.
This year, we’ve been eating sugar snaps for almost two months. They love sun, and are extremely easy to grow from seed. Like tomatoes, you will want to have a trellis for them so that they can climb high and healthy.
As someone who is addicted to spicy food, if you have a sunny spot, hot peppers are amazing. I’ve grown cayenne, serranos and jalapenos. They need little water, little care, and you can eat them at different stages of ‘ripeness’ for different levels of heat (they get spicier as they ripen).
One of the best things about peppers is that they freeze amazingly well. So although they take a long time to ‘fruit,’ once they do if you find yourself not keeping up, pop them in a freezer bag and they keep wonderfully. I ate peppers from our garden through February last last year!
There is a lot online that makes potatoes seem very high-maintenance, but aside from having to dig deep to plant them, I find these to be the ‘set it and forget it’ of veggies. I’ve done pretty much none of the recommended tending to my potatoes (no mounding dirt, barely watering, no spraying) and have had great yields.
It is crazy how much tastier potatoes are fresh than from the store, especially fingerlings and red bliss. One note – these are for in-ground gardens (like ours above) – they don’t work well in containers or raised beds.
Garlic is another crop that appears high-maintenance when you read about it, but for me involved almost no work. I have a whole post about my love affair with garlic. Yes, braiding and drying is a little annoying, but for in-ground gardeners garlic is so easy to grow it’s hard to pass up.
I have to admit that kale is not my favorite green, but in the garden, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It grows well in raised beds or in the ground, and a little goes a long way. With five or more plants, you’ll have salads for two for a whole summer. I’ve found that curly kale and Siberian kale are most pest-resistant. Our dinosaur kale gets decimated by beetles and caterpillars (I get it – I like dino kale best, too), and our red Russian needs a ton of sun, so is a little higher-maintenance.
Finally, a veggie that does well even with shade! Cucumbers are slow to start, but once they get going, they PRODUCE. They climb all over everything so you want to give them lots of space to move, keep them away from anything they can strangle and provide something they can climb up. You’ll find yourself harvesting a cucumber or two every day to keep up! I planted ours direct in the ground and have watered them maybe twice. They thrive in part shade. In a container or raised bed, you’d need to water more frequently, near the roots.
A couple of things to note for all of the above. First, other than cucumbers, the more sun, the better, and if you have raised beds or containers you’ll need to water more than plants you have in the ground.
Second – pests. No matter what, you’ll get pests from time to time. If you live in a high-deer area like I do, you’ll need to shield your plants (we used this mesh to guard our kale above). The deer have never nibbled our garlic or potatoes, but they’ve eaten EVERYTHING else (even tomatoes, which supposedly they don’t like – LIES). Unfortunately, chipmunks and squirrels are completely impossible to scare away (anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something) and they love tomatoes. Below, cabbage worms attacked some of our kale and decimated a good portion within about 12 hours of their arrival, before we saw what had happened and figured out how to get rid of them.
Pests are what they are – nothing can fully protect your veggies from them! The best you can do is take preventative steps, or immediately react once something new shows up.
Any other veggies that have impressed you with how easy they are?