It’s Easy Being Green: 5 Plants to Grow For Fresh Produce

Get your green thumbs ready because growing your own vegetables can be a cost effective way to get fresh produce all summer long. As Better Homes and Gardens points out, it is possible to get 10 pounds of fruit from a $2 tomato plant — it really doesn’t get much cheaper per tomato than that. Of course, there are other costs associated with gardening, especially if you’re just starting out, but it can be a sound investment if you want to put the effort into gardening. The positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to planting and pruning. Caring for a garden gets you outside, breathing in fresh air, and adds activity to your daily life.

You’ll need to plan ahead, taking into consideration how much space you have available. By and large, vegetables require a lot of sunlight, good soil, and plenty of H2O. Gardening also varies by region, and the Almanac provides area-specific information, as well as other tips. It also has plenty of information on the different crops you can plant in your own backyard, and how to care for them. To see what the Almanac has to say about five beginner-friendly plants you can grow and then use in your kitchen, keep reading.



1. Cucumbers

Grown when the weather is warm, cucumbers can fit into any garden because they can climb (use trellises if you want them to grow vertically). You want to grow them in a sunny spot, in neutral to slightly alkaline soil that is at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Since you want warm soil, do not plant cucumbers until at least two weeks have passed since the last frost. After planting, do not be inconsistent in your watering because this will yield bitter tasting fruit. When you harvest your cucumbers will depend on the variety. Regular slicing can be picked when the reach 6 to 8 inches, dills at 4 to 6, and burpless can be 10 inches or longer when plucked. Store your cucumbers in the refrigerator for up to ten days.



2. Tomatoes

Called America’s favorite garden vegetable by the Almanac, tomatoes are easy to grow, but need a bit of attention. For people planting from seeds, the process should have started indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date. If you missed out on this, don’t worry! You can purchase a transplant, and grow from there. Northerners will want to plant tomatoes in an area that receives at least six hours of sunlight each day. In the South, a little bit of light afternoon shade will be beneficial to the plant.

Transplanting takes place after the last frost, when the soil is warm. Right after planting, implement stakes or cages for the tomatoes. This will keep your tomatoes off the ground and create more space in your garden. The first few days it is important that your plants are well watered, and keep this up throughout the season. Mulching five weeks after you transplant will also help the soil retain moisture. For a perfectly picked tomato, choose one that is firm, and richly red. Let tomatoes stay on the vine as long as possible, and never refrigerate what you’ve just harvested — this ruins the taste.

3. Basil

Fragrant, leafy, and a superb complement to tomatoes is basil. Although it only truly grows well in the summer, you can start planning in the spring. Leave room in your garden if you plan on adding this herb, which is best planted in soil that is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds need to be planted between 10 and 12 inches apart. Basil plants are good company for tomatoes in the garden, also needing between 6 and 8 hours of sunlight as well as moist, well drained soil.

Picking the leaves regularly will encourage growth, and you need to pick off the center shoot six weeks after planting to prevent early flowering. Any flowers can be cut off. Prune the plant after a seedling develops its first six leaves, and whenever a branch has between six and eight leaves. The optimal time to harvest is right before the plant sprouts flowers, and basil will have the strongest smell when it is fresh. Regular pruning will yield between 4 and 6 cups of leaves each week. You can quick-freeze your basil by packaging dry, whole sprigs in airtight bags.



4. Peppers

Peppers are pricy to pick up at the grocery store, and can be grown for a fraction of the cost. Like tomatoes, they can be started indoors, or you can purchase a transplant. Transplanting should not occur until soil is at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and they need to be kept in a warm, sunny area. Plant them 18 to 24 inches apart, and one week after transplanting, add fertilizer or compost to the soil. Peppers need between 1 to 2 inches of water every week, and the plants might need support to keep from bending — cone-shaped wire tomato cages will work wonderfully.

For bell peppers, the longer they are on the plant, the sweeter they become. A pair of scissors, or sharp knife, is the best way to remove peppers because it ensures a clean break with minimal damage. As soon as your pepper has reached the desired size, you can harvest it. Store by placing it in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to 10 days.



5. Beans

Unlike many of the previous plants, beans can survive in milder temperatures. You can plant them any time after the last spring frost because the minimum soil temperature is 48 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds also do not start inside, because they cannot handle being transplanted, so once the weather is cooperating, you’re free to plant away outdoors.

If you plant pole beans, you’ll need a trellis or like-support system so they can grow vertically; they should be planted three inches apart. Bush beans grow out horizontally, can spread out 2 feet, but do not need extra support. This variety should be planted two inches apart. To be able to pick fresh beans all summer long, you should sow beans every two weeks. If you won’t be in-town to harvest, you can simply skip a week.

When it comes to watering, do so regularly. You also need to keep up with mulching so the soil stays moist. Harvesting takes place before the beans are fully mature. Firm, decent sized pods will easily snap off the plant; these should be placed in an airtight container in the fridge. Proper storage will not prevent beans from getting tough as time passes, and will remain fresh for about four days. Alternatively, you can pickle/can your beans, or blanche and then freeze them.

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