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Want easy? Try growing these veggies

Jack Be Little pumpkins stay small (under 8 ounces) and are easy to grow. That makes them a good choice for beginners and school garden projects.
Jack Be Little pumpkins stay small (under 8 ounces) and are easy to grow. That makes them a good choice for beginners and school garden projects. MCT file photo

Want a prolific vegetable garden this summer? Start simple.

We asked local experts for their suggestions for the easiest vegetables to grow in the Sacramento area. These picks also make ideal choices for school garden projects or container gardens.

“Think about what you grew in kindergarten – beans, sunflowers, radishes, pansies and maybe nasturtiums,” said Angela Pratt, owner of The Plant Foundry in Oak Park.

“It’s hard to go wrong with kid-friendly veggies, herbs and edible flowers.”

Pratt suggested several “newbie-friendly veggies” including: Jack Be Little pumpkins, zucchini, Swiss chard, radishes, Tom Thumb peas, Tom Thumb lettuce, shorter carrots (such as Parisienne or Chantenay Red Core), bush beans (Golden Wax), dwarf tomatoes (Minibel, Patio, Little Napoli and the new variety, Little Bing), cucumbers, spinach, hot peppers and herbs including basil, sage, thyme and rosemary.

“Add a few pretty companion plants like marigolds and lavender for aesthetics and to attract pollinators,” Pratt suggested.

Sacramento County master gardener Pam Bone also recommended zucchini and summer squash, “but only if the garden gets sun all day and you have the space; they like to roam.”

Beans grow well, but tend to get whiteflies, Bone continued, so be prepared for that pest.

“I like growing eggplant,” Bone said. “It’s easy – it needs lots of heat and full sun – and pretty.

“And, I need to give a shout out to some herbs I grow that are super easy, water thrifty and come back year after year: thyme, oregano and chives,” Bone said.

Don’t forget basil.

“It’s hard to go wrong with a Juliet tomato, some basil plants, and a regular summer squash,” said Don Shor, of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis. “If they all work out, you’ve got a great combination for a simple summer recipe!”

Shor suggested planting basil repeatedly through the spring and early summer. “Keep planting every few weeks,” he said. “You’ll use it and, even if you don’t, the bees love the flowers.”

For a fast crop, radishes can’t be beat, said Gail Fulbeck, a El Dorado County master gardener and vegetable expert at the Sherwood Demonstration Garden in Placerville.

“Radishes are very easy and produce a crop in 30 days,” Fulbeck said. “Don’t forget to thin. Carrots can be sown at the same time and in the same place. By the time the radishes are harvested, the carrots will have started growing and can be harvested a month later.”

For something totally different, but still super easy, Fulbeck suggested cucamelon. Also called Mouse Melon (Melothria scabra), “it’s a fun variety of sour gherkin that resembles a tiny watermelon,” she said. “It’s easy and prolific, and will need a tall trellis!”

What to plant now?

▪ In the vegetable garden, sow seeds for beets, carrots, celery, Swiss chard, endive, fennel, jicama, leaf lettuce, mustard, radishes and turnips.

▪ In the flower garden, plant aster, celosia, cosmos, larkspur, nasturtium, nicotiana, portulaca, salvia, snapdragon, verbena and zinnia.

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