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There is nothing quite like starting a vegetable seed. From first planting it in the soil, to spotting the tiny sprout that comes up, all the way up to harvesting it when it’s at maturity is one of the most fulfilling and nurturing ways to connect to the life around you. No matter what experience level you are with vegetable gardening, there are certain seeds that are much easier to grow than others, with less upfront work and ongoing maintenance.
Growing vegetables from seed has been known to not only reduce your grocery bill but also ensure you know exactly what is behind the process. Gardening as an activity is also great for your family and friends because it gets everyone outside and together, some say that gardening can even be meditative. This article will explore the seven easiest veggies to grow from seed so that you can incorporate them into your garden no matter what size or how old it is.
The Advantages of Growing Vegetables from Seed
There are many advantages when growing from seed over buying starts or seedlings from a nursery or garden centre. Primarily it can be much more cost-effective, as one seedling can cost the price of an entire packet of vegetable seeds (sometimes two). Starting vegetables from seed also gives you the power of choice when it comes to choosing which variety you want.
This could range anywhere from a variety that’s easier to grow, has a shorter time to maturity, is an organic or heirloom variety, is rare, or is a specific color that looks interesting to you. Or sometimes it’s just what you have – many people choose to save their own vegetable seeds year after year.
Check a local seed-swapping or plant-friendly group to partake in seed swapping, as most of the time this means free seeds and a gardening community.
Additionally, starting your seeds allows you to extend your vegetable growing season by starting the veg seeds indoors before the outdoor planting season begins. For those in colder climates, this allows you to stretch out the amount of time you can grow in either early spring or late fall.
Starting vegetables from seed is overall a well-rounded reason to save money and customize exactly what you want to grow. Even deeper than that, it allows you to connect with the natural world around you and the food you eat.
Lettuce is hands down on the top of this list because of its ability to grow in a cool climate. Lettuce can also be grown in many ways, from small baby-sized lettuce to whole heads, from directly in the sun during early spring to under a larger plant or shade cloth in the summer. It is one of those kinds of plants that once you have your soil type figured out, it just needs consistent watering. It also grows quickly with many varieties maturing between 30 and 60 days.
To start lettuce from seed: plant as soon as all danger of frost has passed, and the soil is workable. A good pH for lettuce is somewhere between 6.0 and 7.5. Plant each seed ¼ to ½ in deep in well-draining soil and cover lightly more soil. If planting in rows, plant them 6 to 12 inches apart, depending on the variety. Double-check with the seeding instructions on the packet if available. In general, lettuce kept to a smaller size can be planted as close as 3” and cut as “baby lettuce”, while lettuce grown 12” apart can be grown to a full hear and harvested all at once or multiple leaves at a time. Keep soil moist from the moment you plant the seeds all the way until plant maturity.
To ensure you have healthy lettuce growth throughout the plant’s entire life, plant in loose, well-drained soil that has been amended or enriched to organic compost. Keep the plants out of direct sunlight during hot periods, this can be prevented by making sure you’re planting during the right time of year. However, if you do decide to plant during summer or live in a hot climate, provide shade for your plants with either another plant or a shade cover. Finally, as mentioned above, don’t let your lettuce plants dry out for very long, or else they will wilt and brown at the edges.
Lettuce can be grown in many kinds of gardens, from raised beds, small or large pots, on a windowsill, indoors, or directly onto a prepped garden bed. If growing outside, watch for slugs, as slugs love leafy greens. You can either relocate your slugs or ensure you’re growing enough lettuce that it’s okay to share with local wildlife. In the kitchen, lettuce has a lot of uses and does not take a lot of preparation. Anything from a fresh spring salad to a topping of light lettuce can be easily and quickly harvested throughout the plant’s life.
Green beans are rewarding to grow because they are incredibly nutritious and filling. They are also versatile in the kitchen and can be enjoyed fresh from the pod, cooked, or canned for later use. They can be the star of a meal or as a supplemental side dish and will work in many bean-based soups and stews.
They are considered a warm-season crop, like tomatoes, corn, squash, and others, and prefer to grow with warm daily temps about 65°F – 85°F. They like well-drain soil and are also known as a “nitrogen fixer” which means they take nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil, so they can fertilize themselves as well as neighboring plants. They also have a fast germination rate – about 5 days, which is no time when compared to 2 or 3 weeks for most tomatoes and peppers.
Once you have figured out how to keep the soil in your garden, green beans are easy because all they need is to be plopped in the soil. They also tend to be larger in size when compared to lettuce or kale so if you spill them, they are easy to clean up and fine. Keep the soil moist but do not over-soak, it’s okay if they dry out a bit.
To start green bean seeds, plant them 1 inch deep in well-drained soil and space them 2 to 4 inches apart. They can be sown into the ground once the soil has warmed up in the spring, or you can start them indoors a few weeks earlier if you’re having a late frost or want to have them mature faster.
Different varieties have different growing patterns, so check to see what kind of seeds you have. There are both trellising and bush varieties, with trellising varieties requiring support to grow vertically with a trellis or other structure and bush varieties growing in a more compact, bush-like shape. If planting a trellising variety, plant in a single row a few inches away from the trellis and then let them do their thing.
Another idea is to grow them in a group called the “three sisters” which includes corn, beans, and squash. With this method, you won’t need a trellis because the beans use the corn as the trellis and fix nitrogen into the soil to fertilize the corn and squash. The squash then shades the roots of the other plants. If choosing this method, plant your green beans 2 weeks after you plant your corn, and then plant the squash a week later.
There is truly nothing better than picking a sugar snap pea off the vine and eating it while in the garden (especially on a sunny day). Peas, particularly the variety sugar snap peas, are one of the most low-effort seeds to start and are considered a fan favorite in the gardening world. There are probably many reasons for this, including that they grow relatively fast (about 2 months or 60 days), are fun for kids running through the garden, and pets, especially dogs, also tend to love them.
They can also grow in a wide array of environments like containers, a potted garden, or directly in in-ground beds. They are cold-tolerant and can handle light frosts with spring and fall gardening.
Starting your pea seeds is easy and straightforward! Similarly, to all other seeds on this list, you want a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.5 which is typically a well-drained soil amended with compost and other organic matter. To jump-start growth, soak your seeds in water overnight before planting them, however, this is not required. To sow these vegetable seeds: plant them 1 inch deep and 2 to 4 inches apart and then cover them with a layer of soil. Always water after seeding. If planting from the seed packet, check the seeding instructions to confirm spacing.
The best seasons for planting peas are in the early spring or fall. Once your peas have started to grow, keep the soil moist, particularly during flowering and pod formation. If left uncovered, your soil will dry out easier than if it were covered by a layer of mulch like straw or old leaves.
This will not only retain moisture in the soil but protect soil life beneath the surface. Similarly, to beans, some varieties of peas grow on trellises, while others grow in a bush formation, so decipher which one you have by reading the seeding packet and plan accordingly. Peas are also considered a nitrogen fixer, so if you have rich and well-drained soil, there are not many fertilization requirements.
Radishes add a delicious crunch and kick of spice to any raw dish. They also come in many different shades and hues such as round and red or elongated white or purple. The best part however is not how they look or taste, it’s that they are ready to harvest in as little as three weeks from planting. They’re definitely one of the quickest growing veg out there! This allows for re-sowing the seeds multiple times during the growing season.
To ensure your garden is ready for radishes, add a 2-4” layer of organic matter before planting, and optionally apply a fertilizer such as seaweed about three weeks after planting to help boost growth. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to lush foliage growth but smaller roots.
To sow, plant 1/2 inch deep in rows 1 to 2 inches apart, depending on the variety
and size of the seed itself. They can also be widely broadcasted like carrots. One thing to note is that they typically don’t transplant well, so always start them outside. Planting directly outside also makes it easier on you as the gardener. In terms of timing, plant them in early spring or late summer.
Similarly, to many other kinds of annual plants, radishes need a consistent level of moisture to stay healthy. If left to dry out they will shrivel up and the flavor will become bitter. Throughout its lifecycle, keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged through a drip irrigation system or consistent watering.
Always keep a layer of mulch to ensure the radishes and the soil beneath them stays cool. If seeding in soil that already has a mulched layer, move some of the mulch layer out of the way while the seed is first starting so that it can get ample light and have room to grow. You can then plant the mulch back over the top of the plant when the sprout is taller than the mulch later.
Once the radish seeds have germinated, thin the plants to allow for proper spacing. Thin to be about 2 to 3 inches apart, although some varieties may require space. For example, watermelon radishes are some of the largest varieties and need to be spaced about 4 inches apart. In general, thinning radishes (as well as many other kinds of plants) helps to ensure that each plant has enough room to grow and develop a good-sized root.
Kale is a member of the brassica family, which also includes cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. It is an incredibly nutritious and healthy veg to eat and can be prepared fresh or cooked and tastes delicious both ways. It has many vitamins and minerals, which makes sense why it is so popular and considered a health food trend.
Starting kale from seed is easy – you just need to prepare a soil mixture that is rich in organic matter and well-draining. This can be done directly in the garden or within a seed starting tray.
Ensure soil is somewhere between 6.0 to 7.5 pH and plant 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. If planting in rows space 12 to 18 inches apart, depending on the specific variety and how large you want to harvest them at. At 18” inches, you will have a whole large head of kale. As an FYI, Kale seeds are very small and are usually light brown or black. Typically, they sprout quickly around 5 to 7 days.
Kale is considered a cool-season crop, so start it in the early spring or late summer with your lettuce and radish, and can be planted in shady locations in the garden. If planted in the heat of the growing season the leaves tend to burn and the growth will not be as bountiful. Unfortunately, kale is prone to pests and diseases, such as aphids, cabbage worms, and clubroot.
To prevent these issues, plant kale with companion plants like garlic, chives, shallots, leeks, and onions, as many bugs that eat kale do not like strong, herby scents. Be sure to also rotate your crops each year to prevent plants from using the nutrients from the same area multiple times in a row.
To harvest, cut the plant at the base when they are your desired height for eating. This is typically between 8-12 inches tall, you can also harvest it as “baby kale” when it’s as small as 3 inches. Just remember to harvest the outer leaves first, as this will encourage the plant to continue producing new leaves. As a bonus, kale can be harvested in the fall and winter after a frost or snow. Cold temperatures will improve the flavor of the leaves when eaten.
Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable that is a member of the beet family. It is known for its large, tender leaves and brightly coloured stems, and there are many different varieties with all colours of the rainbow. Similarly, to spinach, it’s jam-packed with nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and K, as well as Iron and potassium. It is typically stir-fried when prepared but can also be eaten raw in a salad.
To seed Swiss chard, plant in a well-drained soil between ½ inch and ¼ inch deep. If planting in rows, space 8 inches and 30 inches apart. They can be started indoors about 6 weeks before the last frost, or directly sown in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. The mature plant takes around 50 to 60 days to mature from seed but can also be cut in an earlier stage if a smaller-sized leaf is desired.
Unlike most other annual vegetables, Swiss chard prefers partial shade or dappled sunlight, so plant next to larger plants such as Brussel sprouts or artichokes. It will however still grow successfully in full sun but may end up a bit smaller. Swiss chard can also be grown in a pot or container.
Just like kale and other leafy greens, Swiss chard tends to attract pests such as aphids and leaf miners. Always plant next to companion plants and plant many kinds of herbs and vegetables in your garden to promote biodiversity and bring in beneficial insects that will eat unwanted pests. In terms of harvesting, harvest the whole hear or take a leave or two several times per week as the plant will continue to produce new leaves throughout the growing season.
In the same family as Swiss chard as amaranth, beets are delicious and sweet and one of the easiest root veg to grow from seed because they don’t need a lot of care once established. Like radishes, they grow in a wide array of colors like pink, purple, yellow, and white, and the inside can sometimes look like a tie-dye pattern. Historically, beetroot leaves were eaten as opposed to the root, and over time the root has become the primary part eaten and found within grocery stores. Beetroot is also a popular dye for fabrics and will almost always dye your hands when preparing.
To start beetroot seeds, plant them directly outside in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Plant the beetroot seeds ½ inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart, with rows spaced about 12 inches apart.
Beetroot is considered cool-season and are incredibly frost resistant. Plant your beets in the fall and you will continue to harvest them throughout the winter (even when it snows!). If you live in a climate with considerable fall and winter rain, you will not need to water them as long as you keep a mulch layer on top of your soil.
Beetroot can benefit from thinning as the beetroot itself will grow to be quite large. Thin the young seedlings somewhere between 4 to 6 inches apart when they are about 3 inches tall to ensure that each root has enough space to grow and develop. Use the thin beet greens in a salad or add the leftovers to your compost pile.