Top 10 Seed-Starting Veggies

So many choices, so little space. That pretty well sums up a beginning gardener's dilemma, given the vast variety of veggies out there. Bewildered? Here's help.

You'll find 10 vegetables that provide the best value for your hard-earned dollars. You'll not only save money by growing them from seed instead of buying mature plants, you'll also maximize your yield per square foot of garden. So get ready to sow, hoe and watch your savings grow.


Beta vulgaris

The veggie world's unsung heroes, these sweet, nutritious delights are a high-yield crop because they don't take up much space. Their intense color comes from betacyanin, which has cancer-fighting properties, particularly against colon cancer. (For beet-stained hands, try lemon juice.) Whether you eat 'em plain or pickled—or use the green tops for salads—you can't beat beets for a healthy treat.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: 49 to 56 days.

Fruit color: Deep red, maroon, purple, gold and white.

Planting advice: Beet seeds are clustered in a dried fruit that produces several seedlings. Plant about 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart, with 12 to 18 inches between rows. Thin out seedlings so they're 1 to 3 inches apart. For an extended harvest, plant a crop every three to four weeks through midsummer. Pull mature fruits when they're 1-1/2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Recommendations: Little Ball (miniature), Green Top Bunching and Crosby Egyptian (for tasty greens).

Suggested Recipe: Warm Roasted Beet Salad >

How to Grow Beets >


Brassica oleracea

A member of the cabbage family, broccoli thrives in cooler weather. With that in mind, grow your own seedlings and transplant them in early spring so they mature before warmer weather sets in. Or plant in summer for a fall harvest when temps drop. Then get ready for good eating with this crowd pleaser, which is rich in vitamins A and D.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: 55 to 65 days.

Fruit color: Green.

Planting advice: Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep and about 18 inches apart; plant seedlings a little deeper than they were set indoors. Space rows 36 inches apart. A central green head develops first; harvest it when it's about 4 to 6 inches in diameter. This will also give it time to produce tender, tasty side shoots.

Recommendations: Cruiser (heat-tolerant), Green Comet, Green Goliath.

Suggested Recipe: Broccoli with Lemon Sauce >

How to Grow Broccoli >


Daucus carota

Biting into a crisp, freshly pulled carrot is one of gardening's sublime pleasures. They're rich in carotene—a source of valuable vitamin A—and a good source of fiber. Better yet, kids love that satisfying crunch.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: 50 to 75 days, depending on variety.

Fruit color: Orange, white, yellow, red, purple.

Planting advice: Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, with two to three seeds per inch. Keep rows about 12 to 18 inches apart. When the seedlings are 1 inch tall, thin them so you have only three per inch for smaller varieties and one to two per inch for larger varieties.

Recommendations (from small to large): Thumbelina (good for container gardening), Royal Chantenay, Scarlet Nantes, Legend.

Suggested Recipe: Carrots and Snow Peas >

How to Grow Carrots >


Cucumis sativus

With their sprawling vines, when do cucumbers become champion producers by the square foot? When you grow them vertically on a trellis, of course. These juicy veggies are mostly water inside; the mineral-rich skin packs more nutritional value. But talk about versatility: The fruit also contains skin-soothing vitamin C and caffeic acid, which is why the gals at the spa insist on putting slices of them over your eyes during a facial.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: 55 to 68 days.

Fruit color: Green.

Planting advice: Sow seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep and thin seedlings to one every 12 inches; or plant transplants 1 to 2 feet apart, in rows spaced 5 or 6 feet apart. For slicing, pick when they're about 2 inches in diameter and up to 10 inches long, and before they turn yellow.

Recommendations: Bush Crop and Fanfare (compact varieties), Burpless (trellis-friendly), Straight 8.

Suggested Recipe: Cucumber Tea Sandwiches >

How to Grow Cucumbers >

Heirloom Tomatoes

Lycopersicon lycopersicum

In a popularity poll, these red wonders win in a landslide. In fact, it's estimated that one-third of all garden plants sold in the United States are tomatoes. Whether you prefer them cut in chunks and sprinkled with salt, sliced and piled high on a sandwich, diced and tossed in chili or stew or pureed for homemade sauce, nothing else tastes like a garden tomato. And if you grow these delectable old-fashioned varieties from seed, the varieties are almost limitless.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: Varies by variety.

Fruit color: Red, green, white, yellow, pink, purple, orange, striped.

Planting advice: Seeds can be sown in flats or in individual containers. They transplant easily; just set tall, leggy transplants a bit deeper in the garden for better rooting, about 2 to 3 feet apart.

Recommendations: Brandywine (an old Amish variety), Cherokee Purple.

Suggested Recipe: South-of-the-Border Caprese Salad >

Top 12 Tomato Tips >


Allium cepa

Easy to grow and good for your heart, onions add sass to any recipe. What's better on a burger than a thick slice of freshly harvested onion? As a plus, their powerful odor deters many garden pests.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: 100 to 120 days.

Fruit color: White, red, yellow.

Planting advice: While growing from seed allows more choices, gardeners typically find it easier planting onions as sets, which are small bulbs less than 1 inch in diameter. Onions thrive in cooler weather, so plant sets in early spring, about 1 inch deep and 2 to 4 inches apart. Space rows about 18 inches apart. When the tops dry and fall over, it's time to pull them out and cure them for winter storage.

Recommendations: Select varieties suited to your region (there are northern and southern onions). Try Sweet Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Walla Walla, Red Baron.

Suggested Recipe: Caramelized Onion Focaccia >

How to Grow Onions >


Capsicum annuum

From sweet, crisp bell peppers to fiery habaneros, festive peppers are the life of the garden party. They add color and flavor to salads, soups, stews, salsas and more.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: 70 to 75 days.

Fruit color: Green, red, yellow, orange, brown, purple, black.

Planting advice: Set transplants about 18 to 24 inches apart in fertile, well-draining soil. Consistent, uniform watering is a must throughout the growing season.

Recommendations: Bell Boy, Purple Belle, Sweet Banana, Cayenne, Jalapeno.

Suggested Recipe: Cheese-Stuffed Jalapenos >

How to Grow Peppers >

Snap Beans

Phaseolus vulgaris

Easy to grow and available in bush and climbing varieties, snap beans are on most gardeners' A-lists. And talk about productive: A 100-foot-long row of healthy plants can yield 75 pounds of beans. For even better yields, grow pole beans that produce an extra picking and can be trained to grow on a trellis or fence, which leaves room for other produce.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: 45 to 65 days.

Fruit color: Green, yellow, purple.

Planting advice: Plant bush bean seeds 1 inch deep and 2 to 4 inches apart. Rows should be 18 to 24 inches apart. Plant pole bean seeds 4 to 6 inches apart, with rows 36 inches apart. Pick them before the seeds inside the pod grow too big, lest they get tough and stringy.

Recommendations: Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder.

Suggested Recipe: Fancy Green Beans >

How to Grow Beans >

Sugar Snap Peas

Lathyrus odoratus

Peas don't get much respect, but they should: They're packed with vitamins and other nutrients, such as folic acid, which is good for bone and cardiovascular health. Kids may turn up their noses at the funny, round little pellets—but they just might love snacking on the crisp, freshly picked pods instead.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: 65 to 75 days.

Fruit color: Green.

Planting advice: Peas don't mind cooler weather, so there's no harm in planting them earlier than other veggies. Sow seeds about 1 inch deep and 1 inch apart. Allow 18 to 24 inches between rows. Harvest before the seeds inside the pod get too big.

Recommendations: Sugar Daddy, Sugar Ann, Super Sugar Snap.

Suggested Recipe: Minty Sugar Snap Peas >

How to Grow Peas >

Summer Squash

Cucurbita pepo

Anyone who's ever received zucchini from an overwhelmed neighbor knows these veggies are prolific growers. Unlike fall and winter squash, they don't need much space to produce an abundant harvest. They come in many shapes, colors and varieties, including zucchini, yellow crookneck and scallop. And for dinner, don't forget the flowers, which are edible, too.

Hardiness: Grown as an annual.

Light needs: Full sun.

Ready to harvest: 50 to 60 days.

Fruit color: Black, green, yellow.

Planting advice: In well-draining soil, sow several seeds about 2 inches apart, or four or five in a 1-inch-tall hill. Thin them to one robust plant or roughly two per hill when they're 2 or 3 inches tall. Harvest the long, narrow varieties when they're no more than 2 inches in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long, or they'll be tough as leather. And wear gloves; the stalks are prickly.

Recommendations: Sundance (crookneck), Aristocrat (zucchini), Goldbar (straightneck), Peter Pan (scallop variety).

Suggested Recipe: Summertime Squash >

How to Grow Summer Squash >

How to Grow Vegetables >

Garden Recipes >

Source: Birds & Blooms "Grow Veggies for Less"