Have you ever felt overwhelmed walking into a nursery or a big box store and seeing all the vegetable starts or seed packets, and wanting to buy some to bring home but you don’t know where to start? The first thing that comes to mind for what you should grow is, start with what you eat. What vegetables do you buy at the store weekly and keep in your fridge? For me, my household eats a lot of broccoli, carrots, and lettuce. Then research how to grow them!
Carrots, broccoli, and lettuce actually all do really well growing in Washington state! All three are cool weather vegetables, meaning they do not like the hot hot heat (think Arizona desert heat, or Texas heat where temperatures soar to over 100 degrees). These vegetables actually like the temperature to be in the 70s. If the temperature gets too hot, these plants tend to want to flower and produce seeds, which is good if you want to save the seeds to grow more for the future, but it makes them not as ideal to eat when they do go to flower. Lettuce also starts getting bitter when the temperature rises. So if you were to grow these three vegetables, spring is the most ideal time to plant them outside, for you to get an early summer harvest!
One can pretty much grow almost anything in Washington state. From strawberries to eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, you just need to make sure you have a sunny spot for your plants to flourish. Some vegetables do take longer to grow than others. Eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes are all heat loving plants, so they do best at the peak of summer. Sometimes, the bigger tomatoes also don’t do as well as cherry or small tomatoes due to the length of time they need to ripen. But it’s still doable to grow any kind of tomatoes!
Another great thing to grow in Washington is summer and winter squashes! For summer squash, you can get pounds and pounds of zucchini just from 1 plant. Pumpkins and spaghetti squash, also known as winter squashes, do take longer to ripen than zucchini but are also easy to grow here in the PNW. One thing you do need to make sure to do for a successful squash harvest though is to make sure you have bees around to help pollinate the plants so they grow fruit to maturity. If you don’t have enough bees around, and you notice the squash not growing bigger, and they rot and die off, you can always hand pollinate them! You need to take pollen from one flower and put it on the other flower.
While we can grow most fruits and vegetables in Washington, there are a few items that you really can’t grow here. A lot of these fruits and vegetables that are hard to grow outdoors here are tropical items that do well with heat and humidity. Things I wish I could grow here but can’t are things like dragon fruit, papaya, and coconut to name a few. I tried growing luffa gourd last summer here and that did not do well in the Washington climate, it just didn’t get warm enough for it to really thrive.
Easy Seeds to Start Outdoors
If you want to start a garden from seed, most seed packets you pick up from the store have directions on the back telling you what to do with them. Some will say: recommend to start indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost, or sow outdoors after last frost. They’re pretty simple to follow usually. A lot of the packets will also tell you how many days until harvest. Some packets will say 30 days while others will say 365 days, so pay attention to those numbers.
If you are looking for some easy-to-start, instant gratification vegetables to start with, try growing radishes or lettuce. Both can usually be harvested within 25-30 days of planting the seed in soil. These seeds are also usually the first thing you can plant outside in early spring. Radishes do sound boring, but keep your eyes peeled for some fun varieties out there, they have purple, pink, black, and white radishes, my favorite are the watermelon colored radishes! As for lettuce, there are a ton of varieties outside of the basic romaine, iceberg, and butterhead varieties. Besides lettuce, leafy greens in general are easy to grow from seed plant to start. Other leafy greens that are common are things like arugula, spinach, and bok choy to name a few.
Another easy vegetable to grow can be sugar snap peas and beans. But you will need a trellis for these vegetables to climb for them to really do well. There are bush bean varieties too which don’t need a trellis. Just make sure to grow plenty for a big harvest!
Where To Buy Gardening Supplies
To purchase gardening supplies like a trellis, look up a garden supply store near you. Smaller garden stores may not have everything you need, but they have the basics and can point you in the right direction for other supplies. All of the major home repair stores like Ace, Home Depot, or Lowe's have a garden supply section that usually includes trellises, pots, soil, and varieties of plants. You can even get the supplies there to build your own raised-beds if you prefer a more permanent garden area.
How To Connect With Other Gardeners
You can learn more about gardening by finding other like-minded people who also want to garden. The internet and YouTube are great resources for finding videos and how-to content explaining gardening basics. It can also be fun to learn from other people in person. Look up gardening clubs in your area, or search neighborhood social media groups and you might be able to find a neighbor that can help you learn as you go. If you don't have the space to garden in your backyard, you may be able to find a small plot at a community garden. Community gardens usually have a mix of expereienced gardeners and new gardeners so you can find lots of other people to brainstorm with as you grow your first garden.
These are just a few ideas and suggestions I have from personal experience. Happy planting!