As spring marches on, we are getting more and more excited for warm-season veggie weather! The emergence of spring brings with it the excitement of the first plantings of the year, with cool-season veggies like lettuce, spinach, and kale kicking off the growing season. But that excitement will soon be in high gear with the heat of the summer, which veggies like cucumber, zucchini, and green beans love just about as much as we do.
Lucky for us, many of these summer-loving vegetables are also relatively easy to grow! So, whether you are a seasoned gardener or just starting out, you’ll be sure to harvest a bountiful crop with these easy-to-grow vegetables.
Nothing says summer quite like the taste of a refreshing cucumber picked straight out of the garden. These warm-season vegetables are super easy to grow, making them a great choice for a kid’s garden. They do best when they get a lot of sunshine and are planted in moist, rich, well-draining soil. They also require a trellis of some kind for their vines to climb up. There are different varieties of cucumbers to choose from, depending on what your end game is.
If you’re big on summer salads, then you’ll want to grow a slicing variety, which can grow up to about a foot long. Most of our customers prefer the seedless or burpless type. The English cucumber has also been gaining in popularity over the last few years. These easy to grow summer staple vegetables are great in salads or on sandwiches. The second variety is the pickling kind, which is a bit smaller, usually growing up to about six inches long. You can harvest cucumbers once they are about two inches long and anytime after that before they start to yellow. They are the most delicious when they’re a little younger, though! Some favorites for kids and adults alike are the Baby Hybrid and Patio Snackers. They are both on the short side, almost seedless and very tasty!
Beans are super easy to grow in your garden right from seed. You’re almost guaranteed to get some sort of bean crop if you plant seeds in your garden, but if you want a killer harvest, there are a few things to know before you get planting. The first is which kind of beans you want to grow; there are pole beans and bush beans.
Pole beans grow up and spiral around a vertical support (so, another one that would require a trellis of some sort), and they mature pretty slowly. Their harvest period is generally around six to eight weeks, so if you want to have fresh, homegrown beans in your suppers all summer long - these should be your go-to.
On the other hand, bush beans grow into pretty compact plants (around 2’ tall) that have a shorter harvest period. They usually produce quite abundantly for around three to four weeks. This makes them a good choice for canning or pickling.
If you just can’t get enough of leafy greens, we would like to present to you the wonder that is Malabar Spinach. Just as other cool season leafy veggies wind down in the heat of the summer, Malabar Spinach is just getting ready to shine. It loves the heat! In addition to being one of the few leafy greens that will tolerate the heat, its foliage is also quite ornamental, so if you like mixing edible plants into your flower garden, Malabar Spinach is your girl!
While it bears the spinach name, Malabar Spinach isn’t actually a true spinach (despite what the appearance of its foliage might suggest). It also goes by monikers like Malabar nightshade, vine spinach, or climbing spinach, thanks to its climbing properties. Just like your beans and cucumbers, this is an easy to grow vegetable that will require some staking or trellises.
Malabar Spinach leaves have a pretty mild flavor that can be eaten raw or cooked. It holds up quite nicely in soups and stir-fries, and the plant itself produces a ton of seeds that you can save for next year’s growing season!
"Harvesting peppers involves a bit of personal preference, as they are generally best picked once they have reached your desired color and size."
Peppers will bring your garden game to the next level. There are so many varieties to choose from—sweet bell, habanero, cayenne, serrano, tabasco, or pimento, to name a few - and all of them have a unique, tasty quality to them. Peppers are usually best started indoors, but again, if you weren’t on top of seed starting, our greenhouse will have you covered. Our long, hot summers are perfect for growing peppers.
Harvesting peppers involves a bit of personal preference, as they are generally best picked once they have reached your desired color and size. Sweet bell peppers start out green and then mature to red, yellow, orange, purple, or white depending on the variety you have planted. Yes, green bell peppers are from the same plant as the red or yellow ones—they’re just harvested at different times! Did we just blow your mind?
Eggplant, pumpkin, spaghetti squash, and watermelon are some other warm-season vegetables you might consider growing this summer here in Greenville. But, if you’re new to growing or just want to take it a bit easy on yourself this summer when it comes to choosing what vegetables to grow, these four are a great place to start. Stop by our garden center anytime, and we’ll be happy to get you well on your way to growing a killer veggie garden this summer!
Whatever size space you have, you can garden. Whether you only have a windowsill, a small patio, or a postage stamp yard in North Carolina, it's still possible to grow some of your own food. Not only does homegrown food taste better, but gardening is also great for our mental and physical health. Here a few ideas to make the best of the gardening space you have available so you can enjoy an abundant harvest.
1. Be strategic about what you grow. Choose vegetables that will yield a lot of food without a lot of space. That means veggies like lettuce, tomatoes, or even potatoes, which produce lots of food from a single plant. Avoid less-efficient veggies, like corn, which need quite a bit of space and only produce about 1-2 cobs per stalk.
2. Consider the vegetables you purchase most often at the grocery store. If lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots are always finding their way into your cart, stick to growing just those things. You can grow much more food if you limit the types of plants in your small-space garden.
3. Take advantage of vertical space. You may not have very much space on the ground for your crops, but there’s plenty of room higher up! With a lattice or bamboo poles, you can grow climbing vegetables like peas and beans that take up very little space on the ground. Potatoes and carrots can be grown in deep pots or even 5-gallon pails, which you can stack on a shelving unit placed in a sunny spot.
4. Hang up some planters. There are lots of different herbs, fruits, and vegetables you can grow from a hanging planter. Strawberries do well in hanging baskets, as do cherry tomatoes, mint, some varieties of eggplant, and even small peppers.
5. Try companion planting to use your space more efficiently. Companion planting has a few different benefits that are helpful in a small garden. For one, companion planting can help shade the soil in your garden to slow the evaporation of water. Secondly, it helps maximize your harvest in minimal space. And third, planting certain crops side by side can help deter garden pests. Try planting lettuce, basil, and onions around the bottom of your tomato plants. You could also try growing carrots underneath climbing beans, and potatoes underneath your peas. Don't forget marigolds; they're easy to grow, and they repel many common garden pests, so they're a great companion for anything!
6. Keep track of your watering. In a small space garden, you'll have to pay pretty close attention to the moisture levels of your plants. When they're in peak growing season, vegetable plants can be really thirsty, especially if you're maximizing your space and growing more than one crop in the same space. But, be careful not to overwater. If you're growing your garden in containers, make sure the containers have ample drainage holes before you start planting, so that your plant roots don't end up waterlogged. When you're growing in containers, it's a good idea to check the soil every day. To do this, poke your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If the top inch is dry, its time to water.
Don't be discouraged or shy away from gardening if you only have a tiny yard. Even on a bright windowsill, you can easily grow some herbs or salad greens! You don't need much to get started; just a container, some soil, and some seeds. If you need more supplies, give us a call. We can help you find everything you need to grow a small-but-mighty garden.
If you've got a little sprout that's interested in gardening, you can help encourage that curiosity by helping them learn to grow their favorite veggies. Homegrown veggies taste so good, they'll go nuts for them and eat straight from the garden! If you've never grown a vegetable before, don't worry. You don't need to have a green thumb, or even know much about gardening, to help your children grow a kid-friendly vegetable garden.
The best plants to help kids develop a passion for gardening are ones that require very little maintenance and produce "snackable" edible plants quickly. Here are 5 of our favorite kid-friendly vegetables to grow in your North Carolina garden.
Carrots are super easy to grow. They're a cool-season crop, so should be planted in early spring, around mid-February. The seeds are quite tiny, so you may need to help small hands plant these. If they get a whole bunch of seeds in one place, just spread them out gently with your fingertips so that they're not too close together. You can usually start to pluck out a few baby carrots to snack on about eight weeks from planting. Carrots can also be grown in containers; just make sure it's a minimum of one foot deep.
It’s easier to get tasty tomatoes from the cherry and grape tomato plants compared to the larger tomatoes. With their tiny size, they ripen much faster and kids can snack on them right in the garden. Also since they ripen so quickly, you have less chance of typical tomato diseases setting in before you get a good crop.
Beans and Sugar Snap Peas
Beans take a little longer to grow, but they can be tons of fun for kids. If your child is familiar with "Jack and the Beanstalk," growing real-life magic beans is a fun way to bring the fairy tale to life! Climbing beans, like scarlet runner beans, are especially popular with kids because they grow fast enough over a structure to create a little secret hiding space. Creating a simple tent or teepee structure with string and stakes, and planting beans around the outside of it will soon give them a little fort in the garden, complete with ready-to-eat snacks later in the season. Sugar snaps can be planted in mid-February and beans should be planted around the beginning of April here in North Carolina.
Lettuce is another super-fast grower that kids can snack on within weeks of planting. Lettuce is also a cool-season crop that will do best in the early spring or late fall. Because it has shallow roots, you can easily grow lettuce in small containers or in the ground. You can even grow lettuce inside near a sunny window! Seeding a new batch of lettuce every two weeks will give you fresh salad greens all season long. Some varieties of lettuce can be ready to eat as soon as three weeks after seeding. Many varieties are “cut and come again”. You take the outermost leaves and the innermost leaves continue growing.
Cucumbers are another fun climbing plant for kids. Most kids love cucumbers, and they're easy to grow as long as you give them lots of sunshine, water, and something to climb. You can also grow cucumbers in a pot as long as they have a trellis, but they will require frequent watering. The one thing about cucumbers is that they need both male and female flowers to pollinate correctly, which both grow on the same plant! It’s always a good idea to grow more than one cucumber plant for increased chances for cross-pollination. For the best harvest, give your child a small clean paintbrush and have them gently "tickle" the cucumber flowers on each plant every few days to help pollinate them. You can start planting cucumbers outdoors in mid-April. Try the Baby Hybrid and the Gherking cukes for kids!
Encouraging your kids' curiosity about gardening and growing doesn't have to be difficult or complicated. Choose a couple of their favorite veggies and watch as their appreciation for plant-based food grows before your eyes!
Spring brings us joy. Just like our favorite perennials, the spring months bring us relief from the sleepy days of winter and beckon us out to enjoy the sun. While we may be excited to get our hands dirty and plant our herbs and veggies, we may hesitate to plant some varieties in case of an unexpected late spring frost.
While we may prefer to hold off until mid-April, when most of North Carolina is safely past the danger of frost, there are some vegetable varieties that thrive in the cooler temperatures. Here are our favorite fall harvest vegetables and herbs.
This strong-flavored leafy green can spice up fresh salads and pestos. Plant it in a spot where it can enjoy spring sun. It will grow up to 12 inches by the time it is ready for harvest. If you want to continue harvesting the leaves till the early part of summer, prune the flower spikes as soon as you notice them. Water arugula regularly during the season.
Due to their preference for cool weather and their long maturity period, broccoli is best started from seed indoors over the winter and transplanted into your vegetable garden as early as late February. This veggie needs full sun and moist, fertile soil. Adding 2 inches of compost to the soil will help the plant to thrive. Add mulch to keep the soil moist and make sure that the developing broccoli heads do not get wet while watering. Broccoli can also be direct-seeded in July, which will prepare them to be harvested in the cool fall season.
Harvest once the heads are firm. Another sign your broccoli is harvest-ready is that the petals surrounding the heads begin to turn yellow. Cut the stalks 6 inches down from the top of the head.
A member of the cabbage family, brussels sprouts are an excellent source of proteins and vitamins. Brussels are also a cool season crop that does best when transplanted from a starter grown indoors.
While transplanting make sure that they are planted at least 12 inches apart. Add organic mulch to keep the soil cool, moist, and nutritious. Fertilize brussels sprouts three weeks after planting, and keep them well watered. Harvest from the bottom of the stalk once the sprouts grow to approximately 1 inch in diameter.
This leafy vegetable will only grow in cool temperatures, so make good use of the cool spring weather while it’s here! Like broccoli and brussels sprouts, spring cabbage should be transplanted rather than direct-seeded.
It is important to harden young cabbage plants off two weeks before transplanting. Use the first week to place them in a cool garage for one or two hours. Bring them outdoors during the second week for a few hours at a time, adding more time every day. Plant 12 to 24 inches apart in moist soil. Heavy mulch, like straw, will keep the soil temperature cool and moist. Fertilize three weeks after planting.
Harvest cabbage heads when they are firm and reach your desired size. Cut heads off at the base and bring them indoors immediately. Remember to remove the root and stem of the plant entirely from the soil after harvest to prevent disease from building up in the soil.
As the name suggests, cauliflower is an edible flower. Its leaves and stems are also edible. Among the vegetable family, it is a tough one to grow as it’s vulnerable to temperature variations. It needs a sunny spot, but too much warmth can prevent it from forming flower buds. This makes it an ideal crop to transplant in the cool spring months or as summer fades into fall. Cauliflower should be hardened off before transplanting.
Plant it in organic-rich well-drained soil and mulch to retain consistent moisture. Water regularly as inadequate water can turn the flower buds bitter. Fertilize every 2 to 4 weeks.
Harvest when the buds are tight - too much delay can lead to flowering. Cut heads off at the base.
Salads aren’t the same without the cool freshness and crisp taste of home-grown lettuce. There are so many different varieties available, like Buttercrunch, Bibb, Iceberg, Green or Red Leaf, and Romaine. For the most part, they require similar growing conditions.
Plant them 12-to-15 inches apart in a partly shaded spot. The soil should be rich in organic material. Soil should be well-drained but moist. Give lettuce a dose of fertilizer 3 weeks after transplanting. Weed carefully to avoid damaging lettuce leaves.
For the best flavor, harvest leaf lettuce when the leaves are young and tender. Pick outer leaves first - this helps the center leaves to grow out. The more you harvest, the more lettuce will grow. This process has earned leaf lettuce varieties the nickname “cut and come again” lettuce.
Head-forming lettuces, like Iceberg, Romaine, and Buttercrunch, need to be collected by cutting the plant an inch above ground level.
Veggies like Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Spinach and herbs like Cilantro, Oregano, Parsley, Dill, and Florence Fennel also love cool weather and thrive with proper care.
When properly cared for, the quality and freshness of homegrown veggies are always leaps and bounds better than what you can find at the average supermarket. Talk to an attendant at our nursery for more tips on growing these delicious cool weather crops.
Carolina Seasons Nursery