Ask a Gardener: Sure-fire Vegetables for Beginners

This idea occurred to me a few weeks ago when I was sitting at the farmers’ market table answering questions as a Master Gardener. I was giving a newbie gardener some advice about his peppers when I told him, “You should realize that you’re growing one of the most challenging vegetables you can grow this side of the Cascades. So, if you don’t succeed this summer, keep it up! Don’t stop gardening!” And that’s pretty much the drill every time I’m there. I spend countless hours coaching people about growing tomatoes when they’re a challenge for even the most experienced gardener. In this climate, we use lots of strategies (remember these?) to help our tomatoes thrive and even so, they may not succeed. Ask any northwest gardener about last year’s summer and they’ll probably tell you how they put all their green tomatoes to use.

So, here’s my message to you, new gardener. Start simple! Tomatoes and peppers are in your future, but for your first plot west of the Cascades, start with veggies that will thrive. I want you to be successful because I know from experience, the more things grow and the more fresh vegetables you taste from your own garden, the more excited you will be about growing your own food. And the more likely you’ll be to garden again next season. So here is a list of easy-to-grow vegetables that you can grow for the spring and fall! Plant these seeds in August and September (with the exception of the plants listed for summer) for a fall harvest:

Greens – these seeds are super tiny so the biggest tip I can give you is to not sow these too deep. Water the bed, sprinkle seeds on the surface, cover with a fine layer of soil, and press down gently. Keep the seed bed moist and water with some fish emulsion fertilizer (nitrogen to promote leafy growth) when the first few leaves appear.
• lettuce
• arugula
• spinach (although I don’t have the best history with spinach success so don’t feel bad if you don’t either)
• swiss chard
• kale

Peas (and beans in the summer) – grow snap peas for their pods and their shoots. Peas can be grown in a container too. Just remember they may need a trellis. Beans are planted for the summer, but peas can be sown in February for a spring harvest and in July for a fall harvest. Save shelling peas for another day or for your local farmer – you need to grow A LOT of shelling peas to yield a usable quantity.

Radishes – they love to live between your lettuces (click here for more about companion planting).

Zucchini (summer) – just plant one! Or plant two in case one dies, but seriously, one will give you all the food you need. The biggest mistake you can make with zucchini is overcrowding, which can cause them to develop the dreaded powdery mildew. The more air that can circulate among the leaves, the better.

Herbs – I grow all these herbs in pots, especially the mint. I didn’t include basil because while it’s delicious and somewhat easy to grow, it is more delicate and needy like tomatoes. Lots of people ask me questions about their sad basil plants and usually it’s because they started too early. You also have to stay on top of the harvest because when basil goes to flower, it will change the flavor of the leaves. See what I mean? It’s delicate. Stick with these sure-fire herbs, which are also delicious dried. Just keep those pots watered.
• mint
• thyme
• oregano
• rosemary
• dill

Happy sowing!

8 thoughts on “Ask a Gardener: Sure-fire Vegetables for Beginners

  1. Beth

    I am moving to Seattle end of the month and was hoping I could plant one or two veggies for the fall. Now I know what to try! I’m a first time gardner and I’m sure I’ll be visiting your blog frequently. 🙂

  2. Kristy Lynn @ Gastronomical Sovereignty

    what a great post stacy!! I think the reason “project gardener” has failed (or at least failed to become the resource I want it to) is because of all the information needed for each post. it’s an effort! This is an accessible and helpful post – nay, resource – for local gardeners! Love it!

  3. Holli

    Perfect timing!

    I just got a call that I will have a spot at our local P-Patch, which is literally 1.5 blocks away – giving me more room to grow more than I can at a friend’s house. But, I was just thinking I needed to ask her (a former MG) about what to plant this late in the year.

    Thank you for a timely post:)

  4. Pingback: 12 Easy Strategies for Making the Most of Your Garden | Seattle Seedling

  5. Leslie Ann

    This will be my 4th year of trying to figure this garden thing out – so far my biggest success have been with pole beans; cucumbers; carrots and tomatoes – I’ve had a hard time keeping slugs away from my greens, and then when I manage too – they bolt. Any advice?

    1. stacy Post author

      Hi Leslie! Are you in the Seattle area? If so, I’m about to offer classes (they’ll be posted this week!) on favorite vegetables like carrots, beans and greens! I’ve already got a class posted on tomatoes! 🙂 Check it out at

      Slugs are the pits – I use Sluggo, an organic, non-toxic slug deterrent. And greens usually bolt because they prefer cool weather. Try planting them in a shadier spot. 🙂


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