17 Secrets For A Viable Vegetable Garden

There’s nothing like freshly harvested herbs to put the zing in everything from artichokes to zucchini. The beauty of backyard farming is that you can tackle anything from a few favorite tomatoes and some basil for snacks to full provisions for the whole family. Getting up to speed with grow-your-own vegetables and herbs requires some practice—but the results can really reduce your food budget. Plus, when you grow your own, the cornucopia is tender, tastier, and chock-full of goodness without fear of those nasty unknowns that megafarms douse on their fields. You control exactly what goes into your patch. The bottom line: Homegrown food is finger-licking good without any ifs, ands, or buts. Here are some suggestions to get your menus rolling.

1. Grow what you eat. If the kids have a gag order against Brussels sprouts, don’t bother to order seeds. On the other hand, if broccoli is borderline rather than a definite thumbs down, give it a try for summer pizzas. Your own fresh broccoli is very different from the supermarket version.

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2. Easy vegetables for starters. Lettuce, arugula, bok choy, microgreens, carrots, beans, onions, broccoli, cabbage, squash, peppers, kale, radishes, and tomatoes are simple to grow. On the other hand, eggplants, artichokes, cauliflower, corn, potatoes, melons, and pumpkins can be challenging.

3. Grow enough of a good thing. If your family goes crazy for salads, get enough seeds to sow several crops and keep the goodies coming. Because some lettuces become bitter in hot weather, be sure to get seeds that can take the heat for later-season sowing. You can even find seeds of winter lettuce to take your salads all the way to Thanksgiving. Read seed packet labels to find out which ones will work best for you.

4. Budget your space. When a little of a good thing is enough, don’t overdo it. Kale is wonderful. But a little kale goes a long way, and it can hog real estate. One plant will probably suffice.

5. Go for the long haul. If you have limited space for food, steer away from crops that have a major footprint but don’t linger long. Peas are great—but they take up a lot of space and peter out when the weather gets hot. The same is true for spinach.

6. Plant in relays. Plan to make several sowings of your favorite standbys. Zucchini and summer squash can be prone to mildew in damp weather. If they’re a staple, sow another relay of seeds three weeks after the first batch goes into the ground. 

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7. Sow wisely. If you don’t want beans coming out of your ears, rather than planting a whole row of favorites, such as snap beans, sow just a few feet and then plant the rest of the row two to three weeks later.

8. Check credentials. Read seed packets or catalog descriptions for the traits that you value. If the grill will be the destination for your peppers, select a plump version. If you’re home only on weekends, select a broccoli that doesn’t run up to flower quickly.

9. Short on space? Think inside the box. The newest trend in veggie growing is patio containers, and many seed companies are introducing veggies specifically bred to stay compact. Try Astia summer squash, Patio Snacker cucumbers, and Lizzano cherry tomatoes.

10. Don’t forget the herbs. Homegrown herbs can really make a recipe pop. In general, one or two plants will do the trick. But if pesto is your desire, then put in a half-dozen or more basil plants. 

11. Location, location, location. Most herbs require full sun, so give these sun-worshippers a place with full-day soleil (mints are the exception—most can tolerate partial shade). 

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12. Hold the drinks. The good news is that while your herbs are soaking up the beams, you won’t be running around with a hose to quench their thirst. Herbs prefer drying out occasionally (but not to the wilting point) rather than sitting in constantly damp soil. 

13. Don’t feed the herbs. Plants high in essential oils tend to be tastier when you grow them lean. Skip the fertilizer.

14. Harvest often. Herbs are generally grown for their leaves, not their flowers. Clipping them frequently will nip flowers in the bud and encourage more branching—and more leaves.

15. Grow your favorites. No need to plant fenugreek if it’s not on your go-to spice list. Instead, stick with old faithfuls, such as parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Add summer savory and oregano to just about any recipe.

16. Going to seed. If you’re a fan of chervil, dill, and coriander, plant them. But keep in mind that those particular herbs run up to seed in a blink. Be prepared to make multiple sowings.

17. Can’t keep up with the herbs? No problem. Harvest some and lay them out to dry in a cool, shady place with good air circulation for winter use. You’ll be investing in a yummy future. 

When you’re looking for seeds and plants, check out these area resources. 


Hudson Valley Seed Library
Accord, NY
(845) 204-8769

Fruition Seeds
(585) 300-0699
Naples, NY

Johnny’s Selected Seeds
955 Benton Ave
Winslow, ME
(877) 564-6697


Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens
7 Sylvan Ln
Westport, CT
(203) 227-4175

Midsummer Farm
156 E Ridge Rd
Warwick, NY
(845) 986-9699