The First Vegetable You Shouldn’t Grow


(lettuce growing in a pot by our backdoor for easy pre-dinner picking)

Did you notice that double post I did on Monday? I was feeling quite wordy that day and thought I’d be clever and write two posts. One to publish right away and another to share another day. Only out of habit I pressed ‘publish’ on both! Well, anyway, you think that’s honey, not brood? You’re probably right. Man, I’m dying to open that hive back up and look again.

So, last week Sara commented here saying that she’s getting ready to plant her first vegetable in a pot. She asked me what were the best things to start with. It made me think back to the very first thing I ever grew in a pot, and then I laughed, as it was probably the very worst thing to start with.

(it’s easy to catch pesky broccoli eating caterpillars when the growing pot is close by)
I first started getting the gardening bug in college, but with only rented rooms in apartments and houses my growing opportunities were nil. Instead I’d spend a great deal of my time studying and drawing, walking and daydreaming at my school’s Urban Farm. It was also around this time that I got interested in cooking and spent many a Saturday morning watching Jacques Pepin cooking shows on PBS. (We still to this day love watching him, we recently figured out how to work our DVR and he is the only thing we routinely record.) In one episode he made something with leeks, maybe soup, I don’t really remember. What I do remember is the way it looked when he cut it open. He’d hold one up in the air, upside down and insert a knife into the white part and pull straight down through the dark green stalks, give the leek a quarter turn and repeat. Then he’d rinse those strips of leek and slice them on the cutting board. It was beautiful so see those thin slices of green leek and his deft knife skills. Anyway my senior year of college came around and I finally had a small backyard in this house I was renting. I was fresh from spending a garden/art/culinary inspired semester in Italy and I was eager to grow something I could eat. Even before fall classes began, I went to the garden store, bought a pot, some soil and leek seeds.

I am here today to tell you that if you are new to gardening, looking for successful results and are headed straight into a rainy, cold Oregon winter, leeks are the very last things you should try growing. Leeks, when grown from seeds, take two years before you can harvest them. I had nine months until graduation. Once I saw how slowly my little shoots were growing and how cold and rainy the weather was becoming I quickly abandoned my gardening project.

(oregano, broccoli & basil growing below it all in a wine barrel)
So since leeks are out, what do you think Sara should grow since she’s brand new to gardening and has a pot and some soil? How about lettuce or radishes? Basil surrounding a tomato plant? Try some beets or chard or spinach. What about herbs? All of those things are relatively easy to grow, fit well in a pot and most importantly give you almost immediate results. Once you get your first taste of success, you’ll be tempted to try another pot and then another. And before that you will have a full fledged garden on your hands. But take it from me don’t start with leeks.

What’s the first thing you’ve ever grown? Was it successful?


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19 responses to “The First Vegetable You Shouldn’t Grow

  1. Tom Martin

    First Garden….

    Very successful – It was soon after Pearl Harbor and my neighborhood friends and I started a Victory Garden to help the war effort. We were 11 – 12 years old. We went to a vacant lot behind our house in San Francisco (there were vacant lots then) and cleared weeds under the watchful eye of parents. The sandy soil was easy to clear and soon there were rows hoed and ready for planting. The garden hose from across the fence provided water.

    I recall we planted lettuce, beans, tomatoes, and other veggies that I cannot remember. Each day the ground was searched for a sign of growth. Weeds were purged and everything was likely overwatered. Soon there were little green shoots and in time we had our first edible results. If I recall correctly a certain amount of interest was lost within time, yet the garden blossomed and we picked tomatoes and green beans for a long time.

    – Tom Martin, Sonoma

  2. I think it depends on the time of year and the climate where she lives, but lettuce, radishes, herbs and tomatoes were amongst my own first growing attempts in a little patio garden in my apartment several years back. Now I can’t conceive of a summer without my own homegrown tomatoes. No matter how small the space I may have, it’s not too small for a “pot garden”, as my husband dubbed it. (A garden grown in pots, that is.) 🙂

  3. Up here in Seattle I think the first successful things that I grew were lettuce, kale, peas, and borage…I don’t recommend the last one unless one plans to be in the garden a lot to keep an eye on, or doesn’t mind the, spreading. I loved the bees it brought but I was overwhelmed with the abundance of plant it produced. Strawberries are a lovely one to start with too, especially with kids 🙂

  4. Lettuce is good if you’re in a cool area, but basil and tomatoes make a happy summer dinner table.

  5. Laura

    I had no idea about leeks. I’ve tried starting them from seed two years in a row now with no success. Now I know why! Radishes are super easy, and peas and greens are relatively easy, too. However, nothing beats home-grown strawberries. 🙂

  6. Holy smokes. Who can remember that far back?! For immediate gratification, I recommend radishes.

  7. I had no idea! Thanks for this post. I thought there was something wrong as my leeks were little thing things. I also don’t know when to harvest my carrots, scallions and radishes. Any help here? It’s my first veggie garden.

    • asonomagarden

      Pat, we judge carrot & radish readiness by digging away the dirt a bit with your finger. If they look nice and plump, then pull. If they don’t look big enough still when you pull one, wait another couple of days or weeks and try pulling another one!

  8. Laurie

    Speaking of “pot gardens”…my husband and I assembled a couple dozen pots the first summer we spent at an apartment in Vancouver, Wa back in ’85’…planting veggies, flowers and herbs. James later entered us in the local rose society’s garden competion that summer (there was a non-rose category) in which we soon found out, to our delight, that we had won! At the awards function, it became the joke within their group that we won it with a “pot garden”… all very tongue in cheek…a great memory, though…the placque is on the kitchen wall of our home.

  9. Yay! I’m so excited that my question prompted a whole post! I’m getting so excited as I read through all of these comments…

    I’m glad to see that lettuce and strawberries are reccommended since we eat a lot of salads and my son’s favorite food are strawberries. It looks like climate can play a big role in what I plant too. We live all the way on the other side of the country in Pittsburgh. Summers are pretty mild– usually around 80-90 in the July and August and pretty humid. It gets chilly at night.

    Is it better to start with seeds? or buy the baby plants at the garden store and repot them?

    • asonomagarden

      Hi Sara, if you’re going to do lettuce & strawberries, I’d start with plants. Then you’ll have even more immediate results! Once you get the hang of growing them a few times, then you can start next fall or next spring with seeds. Radishes need to be started from seeds, but they are easy to sprout and grow super fast.

  10. The first thing I grew that was successful were fava beans. Living in a foggy coastal, though, I foolishly planted okra, melons, and cucumbers my first year. It was not encouraging to say the least. 🙂

  11. Love reading your blog when I get some down time after farming all day. And as an organic vegetable farmer in New England (transplant from Nor Cal) I have to say that leeks only take one season to grow to full maturity, ready to harvest…100-130 days. It is a long season and they do take some special care. So don’t give up everyone on leeks, you can grow them in one season’s time! They are however not the best choice for a first garden, when results and quick ones at that, are best for encouragement to continue the drive to grow our own food.

  12. Tomatoes and an herb would be superb. Nothing get you into a gardening habit like a fresh, warm tomato off the vine. I’ve had issues with radishes and carrots in pots, although they are easy for others. I do have success with snap peas-in a large cube planter with a trellis I made from bamboo stakes and netting. And they grow pretty quickly.

  13. The first thing I ever grew from seed was cherry tomatoes. As soon as the little flowering buds formed, I’d already transplanted them outside, one night something ate or stole them. I say stole since there was no trace left of them. Not even a stem! And I did live in a bad high crime neighborhood. I was so bummed. My husband had even built a small table to put the plants on when I’d started the seeds! But there were skunks, deer rabbits kids cats and dogs all around too. Something or somebody must have enjoyed them, I guess you can say it was successful.I just never got to taste that success!

  14. I remember being very little and helping my mom plant, and then harvest, potatoes. She would turn over a shovel full of soil and I would be in the bed, grabbing the potatoes as they were unearthed.

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