Vegetable Gardening For Dummies®, Second Edition

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Digging Into the Basics of Vegetable Gardening

Part II: Vegging Out

Part III: Getting Down and Dirty in Your Vegetable Garden

Part IV: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Digging Into the Basics of Vegetable Gardening

Chapter 1: Vegetable Gardening 101

Why Have Your Own Vegetable Garden?

The Basics of Planning a Veggie Garden

A Cornucopia of Vegetables to Grow


Peppers and eggplants

Carrots, onions, and potatoes

Peas and beans

Cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower

Lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and specialty greens

An assortment of other great veggies

Non-vegetable edibles

Getting Down to Growing

Choosing between seeds and transplants

Working the soil

Keeping your garden growing and enjoying the rewards

Trying tips for an even bigger bounty

Chapter 2: The Popularity and Benefits of Vegetable Gardening

Food Gardening: It’s Popping Up Everywhere

A Few Good Reasons to Grow Your Own Food

Improve your health

Save some cash

Help the environment

Increase your quality of life

Chapter 3: Planning Your Veggie Garden

Deciding Where to Put Your Vegetable Garden

Considering different sites

Letting the sun shine on your plot

Checking your soil’s drainage

Understanding Veggie Varieties

Timing Your Planting Wisely

Some like it cool, some like it hot

Frost dates and the length of the growing season

Designing Your Garden

Deciding on hills, rows, or raised beds

Spacing your plantings properly

Following the paths

Sketching it out

Part II: Vegging Out

Chapter 4: Tomatoes: The King of Veggies

Checking Out Tomato Varieties

Enjoying classic red, round tomatoes

Surveying all the other colors of tomatoes

Sweetening the pot with cherry, grape, and pear tomatoes

Studying some saucy tomatoes

Introducing the tomato’s relatives

Growing Tomatoes with Ease

Jump-starting tomatoes

Planting, trellising, and pruning

Fertilizing and maintaining your plants

Eliminating pests and other problems

Harvesting tomatoes

Chapter 5: Meeting the Tomato’s Cousins: Peppers and Eggplants

Producing Plenty of Peppers

Those sweet bells

Long and round sweet peppers

Peppers that turn on the heat

Pretty peppers: The ornamentals

Distinguishing Eggplants by Shape

Large and oval


Small and round

Growing Peppers and Eggplants

A few guidelines for starting and planting

Fertilizing and watering tips

Pest patrol

Harvesting tips

Chapter 6: Growing Underground Crops: Carrots, Onions, and Potatoes

A Rabbit’s (and Gardener’s) Favorite Root: Carrots

Classifying carrots by type

Examining some carrot varieties

Onions: The Bulbs with Layers of Sweet and Pungent Goodness

Choosing your onion varieties

Looking at scallions and perennial onions

Potatoes: No Longer a Boring Spud

Potatoes classified

Selecting a few potato varieties

Growing and Gathering Root Crops

General guidelines for all your root crops

Cultivating carrots

Growing onions

Producing potatoes

Keeping Your Root Crops Healthy and Pest-Free

Chapter 7: Sweet and Simple: Beans and Peas

A Bevy of Beans: Filling Your Rows with Bean Family Plants

Bushels of bush beans

Pole beans: The long and tall crop

The versatile shell and dried beans

Miscellaneous beans not to be forgotten

More Peas, Please!

English peas: The reliable standby

Sweet and tender snap peas

An earlier harvest: Snow peas

Get ’Em in the Ground: Growing Beans and Peas

Planting legumes for an ample harvest

Thwarting pests and diseases

Keep on pickin’: Harvesting your crop

Chapter 8: Vigorous Vines: Cucumbers, Melons, Pumpkins, and Squash

Checking Out Cool Cukes

Before you choose: Brushing up on some cucumber vocabulary

Surveying common cucumber varieties

Melons: The Sweet, Juicy Vining Plant

Distinguishing different types of melons

Perusing popular melon varieties

Unearthing the Humble Squash

Different squash types

Popular squash varieties

Great Pumpkins: Counting the Uses for This Versatile Squash

Growing Those Vines

Planting and feeding

Water, water, water!

Ensuring proper pollination

Controlling pests and diseases

Harvesting your vining crop

Chapter 9: Cool Weather Staples: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, and Cauliflower

Paying Attention to the Often-Overlooked Cole Crops

Easing into cole crops with broccoli

Brussels sprouts: The little cabbages

Choosing cabbage: The age-old and dependable cole crop

Considering cauliflower in a rainbow of colors

Growing Your Own Cole Crops

Giving cole crops what they want

Nurturing cole crops

Putting a stop to pesky pest problems

Harvesting cole crops

Chapter 10: A Salad for All Seasons: Lettuce, Spinach, Swiss Chard, and Specialty Greens

Lettuce Get Together

Crisphead lettuce

Romaine lettuce

Loose-head lettuce

Loose-leaf lettuce

Popeye’s Pal: Spinach

Savoy spinach

Smooth spinach and some spinachlike friends

The Attractive and Hardy Swiss Chard

Going Wild with Specialty Greens

Growing Great Greens

Timing is everything: Determining when to plant your greens

Putting your greens to bed

Adding nitrogen-rich fishy fertilizer

Thin and bare it: Thinning your greens

Watering to win the war against wilt

Working out the bugs (and other common ailments)

Your bowl runneth over: Harvesting greens

Chapter 11: Sweet Corn and an A to T of Other Worthy Veggies

Sweet Corn and Its Relatives

Sweet corn


A Variety of Other Great Vegetables




Broccoli raab



Chinese cabbage




Florence fennel


Globe artichokes








Pac choi










Chapter 12: Growing Berries and Herbs for an Edible Landscape

Sweetening Your Landscape with Berries and Fruits



Blackberries and raspberries

Unusual fruits

Spicing Up Your Landscape with Herbs





French tarragon







Making Your Landscape Blossom with Edible Flowers

Part III: Getting Down and Dirty in Your Vegetable Garden

Chapter 13: On Your Mark, Get Set . . . Grow!

Choosing Seeds or Transplants

Deciding on Your Seeding Method and Decoding a Seed Packet

Starting Seeds Indoors

Picking a pot to plant in

Using a mix that doesn’t include soil

Sowing your seeds

Providing the right amount of light and heat

Watering your seedlings

Thinning and transplanting indoors

Feeding your seedlings

Transplanting Indoor Seedlings and Starter Plants

Buying starter plants

Toughening up all types of transplants

Making the big move to the ground

Sowing Seeds Directly in Your Garden

Deciding on a seed-planting method

Thinning seedlings in your garden

Chapter 14: Workin’ the Dirt

Razing Your Garden Spot

Killing weeds and aggressive grasses

Stripping sod

Analyzing and Improving Your Soil

Distinguishing different types of soil

Testing your soil

Adjusting soil pH

Adding organic matter (aka the dead stuff)

Turning Your Soil

Making Your Own Compost

Building a compost pile

Avoiding materials that don’t belong in a compost pile

Moistening and turning your compost pile

Chapter 15: Maintaining Your Vegetable Garden

Introducing Your Inner Gardener to the Watering Basics

Knowing when your veggies need a drink

Discovering ways to water your vegetable garden

Conserving water with a few handy tips

Keeping Your Plants Cozy and Weed Free with Mulch

Spreading organic mulch

Laying inorganic mulch

Deciding which mulch to use

Determining Important Nutrients Your Soil Needs


Secondary nutrients and micronutrients

Fertilizing Your Vegetable Garden

Examining a fertilizer label

Choosing a fertilizer


Give ’Em Something to Lean On: Supporting Your Vegetables

Beans and peas

Melons and cucumbers


Fighting Weed Wars

Making a preemptive strike on weeds

Battling weeds after planting

Chapter 16: Surveying Some Cool Farmer Techniques

Adding Nutrients and Stability with Cover Crops and Green Manures

Choosing cover crops

Planting cover crops

Giving Your Plants Some Friends: Companion Planting

Making Your Garden Work Double Time with Intercropping

Succession Planting for an Extended Harvest

Rotating Crops to Preserve Soil Nutrients and Maintain a Pest-Free Bed

Planting by the Phases of the Moon

Chapter 17: Keeping Your Plants Healthy

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Controlling Pests

In with the good bugs

The bad-bug roundup

Methods of attack

Gardening to Eliminate Diseases

Avoiding diseases with good habits

Watching out for common diseases

Keeping the Animal Kingdom at Bay

Chapter 18: Containing Your Veggies

Considering a Few Container Characteristics

Filling Up Your Container: Potting Soil Made Simple

Knowing Which Vegetables Grow Well in Pots

Some common container veggies

Some bee-u-tee-ful vegetable combos

Planting Your Veggies in Pots

Caring for Container Veggies

Experimenting with Greenhouses, Hoop Houses, and Hydroponics

Chapter 19: Harvesting, Storing, and Preserving Vegetables

Knowing When to Harvest

Putting Away Your Vegetables

Freezing, Drying, and Canning Veggies

Saving Vegetable Seeds

Part IV: The Part of Tens

Chapter 20: Ten Tools of the Trade

Watering Hoses and Cans

Hand Trowels

Hand Cultivators

Garden Hoes

Spades and Shovels

Garden Forks

Garden Rakes

Buckets, Wagons, and Baskets

Wheelbarrows and Garden Carts

Power Tillers

Chapter 21: Nearly Ten Ways to Extend Your Growing Season

Choose Clever Planting Locations

Time Your Planting Wisely

Protect Plants with Hot Caps

Add Elegance to Your Garden with Glass Cloches

Buy or Build Cold Frames

Drape Row Covers over Veggies

Place Wall O’ Waters around Plants

Try Portable Greenhouses and Hoop Houses

Appendix: Planning Guidelines and Other Resources

Vegetables, herbs, and flowers

Seed savers

Fruits and berries

Tools and supplies

State sites

Cyber veggies

Vegetable Gardening For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

by Charlie Nardozzi and the Editors of The National Gardening Association


About the Authors

Charlie Nardozzi has worked for more than 20 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, and the printed page. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun, and accessible to everyone. His energy, exuberance, and love of the natural world also make Charlie an exciting public speaker and presenter. He currently is the senior horticulturist and spokesperson for the National Gardening Association (NGA). He also writes the National News as part of NGA’s online publications, conducts media interviews about gardening and NGA, and provides horticultural consultation to NGA programs.

For 12 years Charlie was an editor with National Gardening magazine, writing stories on a variety of gardening topics from roses to tomatoes. He also has written for national magazines such as Organic Gardening, authored the first edition of Vegetable Gardening For Dummies in 1999 and The Ultimate Gardener in 2009, and contributed to other books such as Gardening All-in-One For Dummies (2003) and the Better Homes and Gardens’ Yard and Garden Owner’s Manual (Meredith Books, 2004).

Charlie’s skills as a garden communicator extend beyond the printed page, however. In 2005, he was the host of PBS’s television program Garden Smart, which reaches more than 60 million households. He also has been a gardening expert on many nationally syndicated television shows, such as HGTV’s Today at Home and Way to Grow, Discovery Channel’s Home Matters, and DIY’s Ask DIY. He has appeared on QVC and the Home Shopping Network as well. At his home in Vermont, Charlie co-hosts the program “In The Garden,” which offers weekly gardening tips on the local CBS affiliate television station, a weekly call-in gardening radio show on a local AM station, and gardening commentaries on public radio. He also hosts national and international gardening tours.

The National Gardening Association, founded in 1972, is a national not-for-profit leader in plant-based education, esteemed for its award-winning Web sites and newsletters, grants and curriculum for youth gardens, and research for the lawn-and-garden industry. NGA’s mission is to advance the personal, community, and educational benefits of gardening by supporting gardeners, communities, and teachers with information and resources. For more information, please visit


I’d like to dedicate this book to everyone who has ever thought about vegetable gardening or tried to grow some of their own food. I particularly want to dedicate this book to my wife, Wendy, who is the best partner in the garden and in my life.

Author’s Acknowledgments

I’d like to thank Mike Baker and Stacy Kennedy for sticking with this book idea and pursuing it so it finally became a reality. A big thanks goes to Georgette Beatty for her keen insights when reading this book and her organizational ability to keep the ball rolling. I appreciated Jessica Smith’s thoughtful questions as the copy editor, especially because she’s a budding vegetable gardener herself! Jim Schmidt kept me honest in the horticultural realm with his suggestions as the technical reviewer. Kathryn Born provided excellent updated illustrations. Suzanne DeJohn, my colleague at NGA, provided many beautiful color photos of vegetables and gardening techniques that make the words come to life.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Senior Project Editor: Georgette Beatty

(Previous Edition: Kathleen M. Cox)

Acquisitions Editor: Stacy Kennedy

Copy Editor: Jessica Smith

(Previous Edition: Kim Darosett, Gwenette Gaddis, Wendy Hatch)

Assistant Editor: Erin Calligan Mooney

Editorial Program Coordinator: Joe Niesen

Technical Editor: James C. Schmidt

Editorial Manager: Michelle Hacker

Editorial Assistant: Jennette ElNaggar

Art Coordinator: Alicia B. South

Cover Photos: Brand X Pictures

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Katherine Crocker

Layout and Graphics: Christin Swinford, Christine Williams

Special Art: Illustrations by Kathryn Born, M.A.

Proofreader: Toni Settle

Indexer: Joan Griffitts

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


Everyone loves good food. Fresh, tasty, nutritious food is our birthright. And what better way to have great food than to grow it yourself? You don’t have to be a farmer to do so either. Whether it be a plot of land in the yard that’s tilled up to grow vegetables, a few vegetables planted amongst your flowers and shrubs, or containers loaded with attractive, edible choices, growing your own food is a satisfying and rewarding activity.

Vegetable gardening isn’t rocket science either. Heck, people have been growing their own vegetables for thousands of years. Like any pursuit, you just need some direction, good advice, and inspiration to get started. Vegetable Gardening For Dummies, 2nd Edition, is for anyone who already grows vegetables or who has ever dreamed of growing some of their own food. All it takes is some resolve to get started. You’re already halfway there just by picking up this book!

About This Book

In this book, you can find all the basic information you need to grow a vege-table garden. It’s great to read the book from front cover to back cover, but each section and chapter is complete in itself. So feel free to browse the vegetables or topics that you want to focus on first. I’ve been vegetable gardening my whole life, so throughout the book I try to impart some practical wisdom that’s easily accessible. I also include some special tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years and information on hundreds of vegetable varieties, many of which are beautiful to look at as well as tasty to eat. Of course, none of this matters if you can’t grow the vegetables successfully. That’s why a large part of this book is devoted to building soil, starting seeds, maintaining the garden, controlling pests, growing through the seasons, and harvesting. I like to encourage happy, healthy, successful gardeners who are willing to experiment, make mistakes, and enjoy sharing their bounty with their friends, family, and neighbors.

Conventions Used in This Book

To help you navigate this book, I include the following conventions:

All references to temperature are in degrees Fahrenheit. As a reminder, I include the label with the first reference in each chapter. After that, I save space (and paper!) by leaving it out.

Variety names for each vegetable are indicated by single quotation marks. These are the common names you’ll see when buying vegetable seeds and plants.

Italics highlight new terms (which I define right away) and the Latin names of vegetables, which I use only when necessary.

Boldfaced text highlights the keywords of bulleted lists and the action part of numbered steps.

Web addresses appear in monofont.

When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. If that happened, rest assured that I haven’t put in any extra characters to indicate the break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist.

What You’re Not to Read

I may think every word I’ve written on vegetable gardening in this book is intriguing, but I realize you have a life and may want to just get on with it. If you want only the basics, keep in mind that sidebars (in shaded gray boxes) and information tagged with the Technical Stuff icon aren’t necessary to your basic understanding of vegetable growing and can be skipped, if you really have to.

Foolish Assumptions

Before I even put one word to the page, I was thinking about who may read this book. Here’s what I assume about you, the reader:

You want to create a vegetable garden that’s filled with healthy, nutritious, beautiful plants to eat.

You want to understand the basics of vegetable gardening and, for experienced gardeners, find new tricks to help you garden better.

You want to grow vegetables in an environmentally friendly manner.

You want to try vegetable gardening even if you only have a deck or patio to grow a few plants.

You want to share your love of gardening with friends, family members, and neighbors because you feel that if more people grew some of their own food, the world would be a better place.

How This Book Is Organized

Like all For Dummies books, this book is broken into parts. Each part has a number of chapters related to a theme. Here’s an overview to get you oriented with the organization.

Part I: Digging Into the Basics of Vegetable Gardening

Vegetable gardening is about more than just growing tasty food. You can find many other reasons and benefits of vegetable gardening, and I explain them in this part. I also cover information you need to know to plan your garden, such as determining the importance of sun and soil, deciding what to grow, and exploring some sample garden designs.

Part II: Vegging Out

Each chapter in this part explores vegetables grouped by botanical family (such as the squash family) or commonality (such as root crops). Each chapter is loaded with the best varieties to grow and specifics on how to grow them. I also provide information to help combat specific pests that may attack each crop. Chapter 12 is all about other edibles, such as berries and herbs. Food comes in many forms, and berries and herbs are some of the easiest and most reliable producers in your yard.

Part III: Getting Down and Dirty in Your Vegetable Garden

Now for the good stuff: building your garden and getting it growing. In this part, I talk about starting seeds; improving your soil; maintaining your garden with proper watering, fertilizing, and mulching; using some extra-cool gardening techniques, such as succession planting; applying pest and disease controls; growing in containers; and harvesting and storage. Whew, that’s a lot of great information!

Part IV: The Part of Tens

This book wouldn’t be a For Dummies book without the always-popular Part of Tens. The final chapters in this book look at the ten best tools to get the job done and nearly ten great season-extending techniques that enable you to garden earlier in spring and later into fall.

Icons Used in This Book

Like all For Dummies books, this book has icons that highlight great tips, warnings, and other specific topics. Here are the ones in this book:

container_vgard.eps Are you interested in growing plants in containers? If so, look for these icons throughout the book.

kidfriendly_vgard.eps One of the best parts of vegetable gardening is involving kids. This icon marks plants that kids love or special gardening tips you can try with your little ones.

remember.eps This icon highlights important information that helps you garden better. Don’t forget this stuff!

technicalstuff.eps If you want to go a little deeper in your knowledge of a plant or technique, read information marked with this icon.

tip.eps This icon highlights information that saves time and money. Even experienced gardeners can learn something from these tidbits!

warning_bomb.eps Sometimes you can make mistakes in the garden, and that’s okay. To help minimize your mistakes, this icon alerts you to potential pitfalls.

Where to Go from Here

Start with the basics by taking in the information in Part I about seeds, plants, soil, your site, and garden planning. Then dive into your list of dream vegetables that you want to grow in your garden. Come back to the book periodically throughout the growing season to find out more about pest solutions in Chapter 17 and season extending in Chapter 21. And don’t forget to keep harvesting the fruits of all your fine work.

This is just the beginning of your vegetable garden experience. Many resources are available for vegetable gardeners (the appendix can get you started). The key is to get started and keep learning. After tasting one of your first homegrown peas, you’ll be hooked for life.

Part I

Digging Into the Basics of Vegetable Gardening


In this part . . .

In this part, I get your vegetable gardening juices flowing. You first find out the environmental, social, and health reasons for growing some of your own food. Then you delve into planning your plot; I talk about the right sun, soil, and growing conditions for your vegetable garden and provide ideas for garden designs along with some samples.

Chapter 1

Vegetable Gardening 101

In This Chapter

Understanding why people grow veggies

Beginning with the basics of planning

Surveying some great vegetables to grow

Keeping your garden growing well

I’ve been vegetable gardening my whole life. I’ve followed my grandfather picking stones out of the potato patch, weeded my mother’s garden, taught my daughter to plant her first seeds, and built cold frames to maximize the amount of food my wife and I can grow in our yard with edible landscaping. I can attest that once you start, vegetable gardening becomes part of your life. It’s not surprising that it grows on you.

In this chapter, I start you off with basics on site preparation, and I tell you what to grow and how to grow it. All the details that follow in subsequent chapters build on the information you need to know to be a successful vege-table gardener. Along the way I hope you are inspired to get some dirt under your fingernails and start your own garden. Dig in!

Why Have Your Own Vegetable Garden?

Over the years people had drifted away from vegetable gardening in the spirit of progress and affluence. However, more recently people are once again realizing that growing their own food, although not as critical to survival as it once was, is an important part of a healthy body, mind, spirit, lifestyle, and community. More people are again turning to vegetable gardening as a means of food and as a hobby. Even the president and first lady have installed a vege-table garden at the White House. Vegetable gardening is officially back!

Who can resist the flavor, smell, and texture of food literally picked minutes before you eat it? It you’ve ever sunk your teeth into a sun-warmed, ripe tomato and felt the juices and flavors explode in your mouth, you’ll know what I mean.

remember.eps But vegetable gardening isn’t just about taste. It’s about safe food that’s produced close to home. It’s about knowing what has been sprayed on that food. It’s about feeding your friends and family nutritious food that’s high in vitamins and antioxidants (cancer-fighting compounds). It’s about connecting with your neighbors and community as you experiment with ethnic dishes using exotic ingredients grown in your not-so-exotic backyard. It’s about reducing pollution and global warming by not buying produce that’s shipped hundreds of miles to your local grocery store. Finally it’s about reclaiming your ability to grow some of your own food, even if it’s a container of basil, to have a little more control in your life.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the popularity and benefits of vegetable gardening, be sure to check out Chapter 2.

The Basics of Planning a Veggie Garden

When’s the best time to start vegetable gardening? Right now! Here are the basics on how to decide where to grow yours:

Find a spot close to the house that you walk by daily so you don’t forget about your project.

Find a spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun a day.

Find a spot that has great soil.

tip.eps Keep your new garden small. You can be just as productive in a small raised bed garden, container, or small kitchen garden as you would be if you tilled your whole backyard. Start small, be successful, and then get bigger (if you want).

What should you put in your new garden? Well, you have many vegetable options when it comes to deciding what you can grow, so it’s going to be tough deciding which ones to plant. The most important rule I can tell you is to grow what you like to eat. Yes, folks, this is all about taste. So no matter what people say about how easy beans are to grow, don’t grow them if you hate to eat them. (Of course, after tasting fresh green beans from the garden, you may change your tune.) Grow a mix of varieties of favorite vegetables that you and your family will love. Also, try a few different ones to stretch your imagination.

Chapter 3 has plenty of pointers to help you plan your garden wisely.

A Cornucopia of Vegetables to Grow

You can grow many different types of vegetables in your yard — and not just in the backyard. These days veggies are pretty enough to be front and center. The following sections describe some of the most popular to get you started. Hopefully you have plenty of room!


Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown — and for good reason. The difference between a vine-ripened fruit and one picked green, gassed, and shipped hundreds of miles to your grocery store is incomparable. You can choose from container varieties that produce fruit the size of a pea and giant plants that grow to the height of a garage and produce fruits the size of a softball! You can even grow varieties of tomatoes with fruits every color of the rainbow except blue (however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that color someday either).

remember.eps Tomatoes love the heat and sun and require fertile soil and support. Unless you’re growing the dwarf varieties, stakes, cages, trellises, teepees, and arbors are essential for keeping plants growing upright and strong. You only need a few plants to keep your family in tomatoes most of the summer. Chapter 4 has the full scoop on growing tomatoes.

Peppers and eggplants

Peppers and eggplants are related to tomatoes, but they’re a little more homogeneous in their plant size. However, what they lack in plant variety, they make up in fruit uniqueness. Pepper fruits come shaped as bells or as long and thin tubular shapes. Some are as sweet as candy and others are hot enough to burn your mouth.

Pepper fruits mostly start out green and end up red, but where they go, colorwise, in between is amazing. You can experiment with chocolate-, yellow-, ivory-, purple-, lavender-, and orange-colored fruits that can be eaten raw or used in a multitude of cooked dishes. Eggplants also have burst onto the scene with varieties that produce unique-colored fruits, including white, purple, striped, and even orange.

tip.eps If you can grow a tomato, you can grow peppers and eggplants. They need similar growing conditions. Plus, I love them as ornamental edibles. Not only do they look good in flower beds and containers, but you can eat them too! Chapter 5 has more on peppers and eggplants.

Carrots, onions, and potatoes

Get to the root of the matter by growing carrots, onions, and potatoes. (I know, I couldn’t resist the play on words!) Carrots, onions, and potatoes love cool soil and cool weather conditions. Start them in spring for an early summer crop or in summer to mature in fall. Here are a few fun facts on each group (Chapter 6 has more information):

Carrots: Carrot varieties are either short and squat or long and thin. You can even get colors other than orange, including red, purple, yellow, and white. Because their seeds are so small and take a while to germinate, carrots can be difficult to get started. But once they’re growing you’ll soon be munching on roots.

Onions: Onions are adapted to the north and south depending on the variety. Some are sweet and can be eaten out of hand, but others are pungent and best for cooking and storing in winter. You can grow onions from seed, sets (bulbs), or plants.

Potatoes: Potatoes are an easy cool-season crop to grow because you plant part of the potato to get new plants. If you cover the tubers with soil, hill them up, and keep them watered, you’ll be rolling in spuds come summer.

Peas and beans

Peas and beans are like brothers. They’re in the same family and share similar traits, but in some ways they’re very different!

Peas are cool-season-loving crops that produce either plump or flat pods depending on the variety. With some pea varieties you eat pods and all. With others you eat just the peas inside.

Beans love the heat. They’re one of the easiest vegetables to grow. They come in bush and twining or pole bean forms.

tip.eps Both are great vegetables in the garden because they require little fertilizer and care once they’re up and running. Chapter 7 has details.

Cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash

I affectionately call cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash the “viners.” They love to ramble about the garden, taking up space and producing loads of fruit. But even if you’re a small-space gardener, you can still grow these space hogs. Newer varieties of cucumbers, squash, and melons can fit in a small raised bed or even a container.

One common trait of these vegetables is that they need heat, water, fertility, and bees. Bees? Yes, bees. Most of these squash family crops need to be cross-pollinated to produce fruit, so bees are critical to success. If you’re growing other vegetables, flowers, and herbs, you’re sure to have some bees flying about to do the dirty work.

warning_bomb.eps Some members of this veggie family can be prolific, so don’t plant lots of zucchinis, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Then again, if you really want to share the harvest you can plant a bunch to give away!

Head to Chapter 8 for plenty of pointers on growing vining veggies.

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower are similar in how they grow and what they need to grow. However, their differences come in the parts you eat. Here’s the lowdown:

After you pick the heads of cabbage and cauliflower, the plant is finished and stops producing.

After you pick broccoli heads, you’ll keep getting more broccoli side shoots to eat all season long.

Brussels sprouts are like your crazy Uncle Louis. He looks a little strange, and you don’t know where he came from. Brussels sprouts produce cabbagelike balls all along a straight stem. Keep picking the sprouts starting from the bottom to the top of the stalk and working up until it stops producing because of the cold.

This group of veggies is productive and serves as a great addition to a cool-weather spring or fall garden. See Chapter 9 for more information.

Lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and specialty greens

If you’re looking for quick rewards, go straight to Chapter 10 and grow greens: lettuce, spinach, chard, and wild greens, such as dandelions. Because you don’t have to wait for greens to form fruits (you’re just eating the leaves), you can pick them as soon as your stomach rumbles and the leaves are big enough to munch. They mostly love cool weather, so start early in spring and then keep planting and harvesting.

container_vgard.eps Greens are one of the best container vegetables to grow because they’re easy and adaptable. You can mix and match lettuce varieties to produce different colors and textures that look beautiful and taste divine.

An assortment of other great veggies

In the previous sections, I just touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what to grow for vegetable varieties. There are so many more vegetables to grow; all you have to do is wander down the produce aisles at the local grocery store and think, do I like to eat that? Chapter 11 describes more than 30 other vegetables to grow — from asparagus to turnips. Watch out or you may get hooked and start growing so many vegetables you’ll have to open a restaurant. Vegetable gardening really can become that much fun.

Non-vegetable edibles

Don’t limit yourself to growing just vegetables in the vegetable garden. That would be silly! Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, and herbs, such as basil, parsley, and chives, are great additions to your yard. They produce fruit, spice up a meal, and look beautiful. Need some inspiration? Here are some suggestions:

Consider having a strawberry patch in your garden.

Landscape your yard with blueberry bushes or a hedge of raspberries.

Mix herb plants around vegetable plants or give them their own space in the garden. Herbs also grow well in containers mixed with flowers. I love growing rosemary in a deck planter each year for the attractive foliage and the enticing aroma.

Chapter 12 has plenty of details on growing berries and herbs in an edible landscape.

Getting Down to Growing

Are you excited to grow some of your own food? Not so fast! You need a roadmap to get a successful start. Just like driving, if you get off in the wrong direction, it takes lots of time and effort to get back on course. So you have to start out with a plan and stick to it. The following sections are a quick run-through from seed to table of growing vegetables. After you read this section, head to the chapters in Part II for all the nitty-gritty details that will ensure success.

Choosing between seeds and transplants

The easiest way to start a new garden is to grow those vegetables that can be planted from seed directly into the soil. For veggies that are best transplanted, buy the transplants locally. (Some vegetables can go both ways, too.) Here’s a breakdown of the two groups:

Some vegetables that can be sown directly into the ground as seeds include beans, peas, carrots, beets, and sweet corn.

Some vegetables and herbs you can find in local garden centers as transplants include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, squash, basil, and parsley.

tip.eps If you have a small garden, go with the transplants. If you’re growing a larger garden, you’ll find it less expensive to grow veggies from seed.

Chapter 13 has details on growing seeds versus growing transplants.

Working the soil

remember.eps After you have your vegetable seeds or transplants ready to go, the temptation is to simply turn the soil and then plant. However, soil building is one of the most important parts of your gardening experience. Your soil needs to be fertile, loose, dried out, and relatively weed and rock free to grow the best crops. If you take care of the soil in your beds, it’ll take care of you by producing healthy, productive vegetables with few insect and disease problems.

Spend some time working the soil by hand or with a tiller. Amend it every year with compost to keep the fertility high and make it more workable. Test your soil to see if it needs other nutrients. Flip to Chapter 14 for more ways to coddle your soil.

Keeping your garden growing and enjoying the rewards

When your garden is up and running, you can lower your maintenance time and effort and raise your satisfaction level by doing the following (see Chapter 15 for the full scoop on maintenance):

Mulch your beds.

Water your plants deeply and consistently.

Fertilize when necessary.

No matter how well you care for your garden, pests still may attack your plants. It’s best to grow insect- and disease-resistant varieties when possible. And be sure to create barriers to block pests from attacking, clean up the garden well to remove overwintering insects and diseases, and only spray as a last resort. I provide more pointers on keeping your plants healthy in Chapter 17.

tip.eps Finally, after all this serious stuff, comes the fun part: harvesting. Check the garden daily when plants are producing, and pick even if you don’t have room in the refrigerator. With many vegetable plants, the more fruits you pick, the more you’ll get. You always can give away the fresh produce to friends, family, and neighbors, so don’t stop picking. Chapter 19 has details on harvesting and storing your veggies.

Trying tips for an even bigger bounty

tip.eps To go further with your vegetable garden, try a few of the following techniques that help improve production and yield:

Use containers. Growing in containers allows you to grow plants longer into the season and position your plants in the sunniest, most protected spots around your house. See Chapter 18 for the dirt on container gardening.

Practice cool farmer tricks, such as succession planting and inter-planting. Succession planting allows you to grow three or more crops in one season from the same spot. Interplanting is where you plant quick-maturing small plants, such as lettuce and radishes, around slow-growing larger plants, such as tomatoes and broccoli. The small plants are harvested before the larger plants shade them out. See Chapter 16 for more details.