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Best Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs to Grow for Beginners

by Fern on September 4, 2008

in Fruits & Vegetables,Herbs,Popular

Whether you’re an old hand at gardening but have never grown edible plants, or you’re new to gardening all together, here is a list of plants that are well suited to people who are considering growing something they can eat for the first time.

Photo by GNIKRJ

I’ve linked to growing information from Organic Gardening magazine to help you get your container farming off to a good start. Going organic is really important when it comes to plants you are going to eat because eating chemicals (whether in the form of fertilizers or pesticides) is not very appetizing.

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{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue September 6, 2008 at 11:03 am

My container veg were a bit deisastrous this year. I shall study the ideas here and try to do better next year!

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Fern September 6, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Sue — Uh oh! Sorry to hear about your veggies. I hope you find useful info here at Life on the Balcony.

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Uncle B September 7, 2008 at 9:04 am

I am looking for a small yellow, buttery, early variety of potatoes for planting in a huge flower-pot indoors and on my balcony on sunny days! Any ideas? These will be used for a gourmet meal when mature, and the more exotic the better! Also: I have never had good luck with parsley – I plant and water it but it just never seems to sprout – tried a second brand of seeds, same results! Help dammit!

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Fern September 7, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Uncle B — Thanks for stopping by! You might be hard pressed to find potato seeds this time of year. A number of my favorite seed suppliers appear to be sold out. My favorite variety of yellow potatoes is Swedish Peanut, if you can find them. They are a yellow fingerling potato.

Potatoes need full sun, so be sure to put them in a location where they can get more than 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Remember that potatoes can take up to 3 months to mature, so be sure to pay attention throughout the time you are growing them to make sure that window is still getting lots of sun (with the change in seasons, a once sunny spot can be shaded, or vice versa). Here is a YouTube video on growing potatoes indoors. This is another source of potato growing tips.

With regard to parsley, Have you tried soaking the seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting the seeds? Be sure that after planting the pot is in a warm location (like a sunny window) where the soil will be warm (not hot!). The warmth signals to parsley seeds that it is time to start growing. Also, make sure you are using fresh potting soil and a clean pot. Old potting soil or dirt from the garden as well as improperly cleaned pots can harbor fungi, molds, and pests that can make the soil inhospitable for seed starting. I have had a lot of success with making my own seed starting mix from 9 parts Miracle Grow peat (not organic, unfortunately) and 1 part perlite. If growing organically is important, Jen of Muddy Boot Dreams recommends using coconut coir, which can be obtained at a good gardening center.

I hope those tips help! I’d love to hear how your potatoes and parsley turn out.

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Robin September 23, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Rosemary is easy to grow from cuttings – saves buying lots of new plants. Just strip lower leaves and place in potting soil, or the garden. Keep moist until it takes root and starts to grow new shoots. Then just water as needed.
Pink rosemary is a nice change from blue, and pretty as well as edible.

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Fern September 24, 2008 at 10:58 am

Thanks for those tips Robin!

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Marc November 25, 2012 at 6:06 pm

I don’t have much land to grow veggies, but I grew a tmoato plant in my front yard this summer. I got some great tmoatoes from it but, lately I haven’t been able to get a ripe tmoato that doesn’t already have a slug on it. I live in Southern Michigan as well. What do you do to prevent slugs?

Asterope September 24, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Just thought I would share the wonder of cherry tomatoes with you!!

You can grow them very well in little space, just give them something to climb onto. They are virtually pest resistant and fruit like crazy!!!

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Fern September 25, 2008 at 10:33 am

Asterope — Thanks for stopping by! I have a cherry tomato plant going crazy as we speak. I agree that they grow like crazy on very little space, but the reason I left them off the list is because tomatoes can be prone to pests, fungi and other problems and I thought that some beginners would be frustrated by some of the problems tomatoes can have.

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Jeff Sorenson September 27, 2008 at 1:54 pm

The closest potato that I can think of that Uncle B is talking about is a variety called Yukon Gold. I have had two reactions to them. People either love them or they hate them. Doesn’t seem to be any place in the middle. They are a shorter season potato that I grow in northern MN.

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pawan September 30, 2008 at 6:19 am

Hi,

Good vegetable info, i want to be a veggie,

Thanks

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Michael October 9, 2008 at 1:44 am

Hi, I live in Athens and wondered whether it was safe to grow organic fruit and vegetables on the balcony. Do they induce toxins from the air?

Regards

Michael

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Fern October 9, 2008 at 8:33 pm

Michael–Air pollution and acid rain can damage fruits and vegetables grown outside, but it harms organic and conventionally grown plants equally. Does Athens have extremely high amounts air pollution? There are small greenhouses that can be used on a balcony. Check them out here.

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denise January 10, 2009 at 3:22 pm

What and excellent article. Many people don’t realize what all you can grow on a balcony and how much it add to the enjoyment of your home. My one friend grew gourds, corn and vines. It looked like a beautiful jungle! Denise

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Fern January 10, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Thanks for visiting Denise. I’m glad you found the article useful!

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Agnes March 29, 2009 at 4:48 pm

So glad to have found this website! We just planted our container veggie garden this afternoon. We have tomatoes, lettuce, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, and baby carrots. We can’t wait for everything to grow! (Keeping our fingers crossed.) Our preschooler is probably more excited than we are because plants bring the promise of bugs. :)

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Fern March 29, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Agnes–Glad you found me! Your veggie garden sounds fantastic. Keep me updated about your progress. I’d love to see photos. You should join our Flickr group!

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Kamala July 23, 2009 at 5:19 am

Thanks so much for this blog! I have learned a lot from it as a novice gardener. It is so exciting to watch herbs and veggies grow this summer.

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Kamala January 5, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Fern,

Is there anything that I can do at this time of year for my garden? I live in DC and it’s pretty snowy outside so I assume that the answer is no, but are there any seeds that I can grow indoors?

One idea for a future post is to create a timeline for things that we should be doing with our garden in preparation for the next season. Love your blog, thanks!

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Fern January 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Kamala–Check back next week, because I have some posts scheduled about starting seeds. But the short answer is “yes!” there are seeds you can start indoors now. Do you know your last frost date?

Kamala January 5, 2010 at 2:05 pm

According to the link below, the last frost date for Washington DC is April 10. However, I’ve also heard anectodally that people in my area wait until mid-May.

http://cdmplanning.hypermart.net/frost.html

Any ideas?

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Fern January 5, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Kamala–Do you have bright windows? Also, what kinds of things are you interested in growing? Because there are herbs that will do ok indoors, and of course, there are indoor plants. But if you’re not going to put anything outside until April or May, you probably don’t want to start any seeds meant to be transplanted out there until 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. That means not getting started until the end of February, beginning of March.

Another option for holding you over until then is to force bulbs. You might be able to find some pretty good deals on bulbs like paperwhites and amaryllis now after the holdiay gift giving extravaganza is over.

Kamala January 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Thanks for all of your help, Fern! Last year was my first time planting a vegetable garden, and I planted tomatoes, basil, cilantro, mint, and hot peppers. This year I would like to be more ambitious and plant some small zucchini, small eggplant, cauliflower, and maybe some sweet peppers. I have the benefit of a balcony as well as a small plot of land in front of my townhome. I am thinking that I can use that plot to plant some of the larger vegetables.

I would love some advice on whether I should stick to buying plants or if it is realistic to grow vegetables from seeds. I tried growing my hot peppers last year from seed and very few sprouted. I wonder if it had to do with when I planted them — some time in June.

Thanks!

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Gooseneck Hitch January 7, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Thanks a lot for this thoughtful advise. I have been looking for the right fruits and vegetables for a balcony garden – and it is all in here!

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Beth March 5, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I would like to grow some plants indoor, in an attic room with sky lights.
Are there any kind of vegetables that will grow without direct sunlight?
I am considering starting with some herbs.

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Fern March 5, 2010 at 6:40 pm
michelle deshon March 13, 2010 at 12:03 pm

“I am looking for a small yellow, buttery, early variety of potatoes”
I agree with the yukon gold being a good choice. Having lived all my life in Idaho where potatoes are our major crop, the yukon gold are one of my favorites. They have a wonderful flavor and will fit your criteria nicely.

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Bonnie Bailey March 16, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Fern:
What about growing cherry tomatoes in a container on the balcony???
Can you give me any suggestions Fern, as I am a novice at gardening..

Bonnie

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Fern March 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Bonnie–There are several varieties of cherry tomatoes that are low growing, and more bush than gigantic vine, which is the more typical form. For example, check out a variety called ‘Tumbling Tom.’ The trick with tomatoes is to keep their soil evenly moist, not too soggy and not too dry. Also, be sure to use a good size pot because they have vigorous roots. For the Tumbling Tom variety I linked to above, I’d go with a pot that is at least 10 inches in diameter for the best results. Keep in mind that smaller pots dry out more quickly than larger ones.

Carolyn March 19, 2010 at 5:44 am

I want to plant veggies in pots. What is the best kind of lettuce, herbs, veggies to use for this project. I use a walker and my granddaughters (4 & 10) want to help, so I thought this would be a great project for all of us. Easily accessible for me when they are not here through the week.

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Fern March 19, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Carolyn–Any kind of leaf lettuce (that does not form a head) is easy to grow in a container of virtually any size. With regard to herbs, I would grow the varieties you like to use in your cooking. Almost all herbs are easy to grow in pots as well. As to the vegetables, all of the vegetables listed on this post are good ones for a beginner to start with. Again, pick ones you like to eat, there is no point in growing a vegetable that you’re just going to throw out. I think the trick for you will be placing your pots on a raised bench or low table so that you can sit in a chair while you’re watering, weeding, pruning, harvesting etc.

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Lou Ann March 21, 2010 at 10:12 am

Hi Fern,

Thanks for this cute and highly informative forum. I started preparing two 10-inch pots for only the pumpkins by composting and watering the used-to-be arid soil. I wind up choosing first the garlic and carrots. There seem to be no forums or videos about pumpkins in containers… as they do run amok. O well. With that said… I’ve asked my landlady permission to use a small patch of her land… so that would be swell for them. In the meantime… I’m a bit uneasy with the garlic spacing. According to the link you gave… each garlic need to be spaced out 6 to 8 inches apart. I have a pot that doesn’t have that much room to space them out in that way. What are certain things I need to pay attention to, to ensure that each garlic plant/clove has enough room in a container/pot?

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Fern March 21, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Lou Ann–If your pot doesn’t have enough room to space your garlic out, then reduce the number of garlic plants you put in that pot. With edible plants whose edible part is below ground, you have to make sure that each plant has enough room to grow. If they’re too close together, the garlic heads may be small or misshapen.

Lou Ann March 22, 2010 at 8:46 am

Egads! Well it’s a good thing I started out with one garlic clove… and now doing fine mulched in dry leaves and straw… with its yellow colour at its tips. I’ve measured the pot’s diameter and it’s about 12 inches. There seems to be room for one more… so long as it’s 6 inches apart. Would that be okay?

I guess it’s the same with carrots… although its seeds are so tiny that I can easily have five of them in one go half-hazardly. The composted soil still has bits and pieces of veggie trash… and now the soil is dark rich, moist but chunky. Would digging deeper and mixing it all up make it much loose?

Next time around I’ll buy a 10-inch rectangular container for both garlics and carrots.

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Fern March 22, 2010 at 9:03 am

Lou Ann–You should be ok with another garlic plant, just remember that you should also leave a few inches between your plant and the side of the pot too.

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Jessica March 23, 2010 at 10:58 am

Hi Fern,

I just stumbled across your site today, it’s exactly what I have been looking for. I want to start a garden with my kids on our balcony. I know nothing about gardening. I was thinking of planting some herbs like cilantro, parsley and rosemary.Can I put them together in one pot? If so what size? I also wanted to plant some bell peppers, carrots and garlic. what kind of pots would I need for those, how deep do they have to be?Also can I use one type of potting soil for all of this, I dont have alot of space to store soil.Im trying to keep it simple. I would also love any advise on starting a small compost bin that I can keep on my balcony ( one that my ladlord wont notice : ) One last thing what is your take on using empty milk containers as pots, can I plant any of this stuff in them?

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Fern March 23, 2010 at 11:57 am

Hi Jessica! Glad you found LOTB. Growing edible plants with your kids is a great idea! I wouldn’t plant those three plants together in the same pot. Rosemary doesn’t need as much water as the other two, and is a perennial (it will live for years and years if you treat it nicely). Parsley is a biennial (it lives for two years). And cilantro is an annual (it lives for one season). Since some of those plants will be dying more quickly than others, and they have different water requirements, it could be tricky to have them all in the same pot.

With regard to the milk containers, are we talking plastic gallon jugs or the single-serving size that kids get with their school lunch? Rosemary will need a bigger pot than a milk container of any size. I’d look for a pot that is 12 inches across and at least that deep. Cilantro and parsley can both be grown in smaller pots (like a quart of milk with the top chopped off and a drainage hole in the bottom).

Good luck!

Lou Ann March 30, 2010 at 10:37 am

Hi Fern,

I’m having carrot issues: the seeds are not germinating as I thought they should. What are the methods I need to ensure they aren’t “dead” … or to ensure they germinate successfully.

Thanks a million in advance

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Fern March 30, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Lou Ann–Did you start with fresh seed from a reliable seed provider? Did you do the following?
–Use good potting soil
–Sow them thinly
–Cover with 1/4 inch of soil
–Keep the soil evenly moist

You can test the viability of your seed by getting a paper towel, wetting it and then lightly wringing it out. Fold it in quarters and place it inside a ziplock baggy. Sprinkle a small amount of seed on the paper towel. Don’t seal the bag. Put it in a dark, warm place. In a couple of days, you should see roots forming. If not, then there might be something wrong with your seeds.

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Michele April 4, 2010 at 7:15 am

I am new to container gardening. Last year I tried to grow tomatos, the plants were gorgeous but I had very little fruit. My porch does not get a lot of sun, so this year I want to try something different. Any ideas? I live in central Georgia, so the heat and humidity will also be a factor.

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Fern April 4, 2010 at 11:28 am

Michele–Check out this post on growing edibles in part-shade, it has a list of things that will do well in your situation: http://lifeonthebalcony.com/an-updated-list-of-herbs-and-vegetables-that-you-can-grow-on-shadier-balconies/

Lou Ann April 12, 2010 at 9:03 am

Hi Fern,

Boy I do hope my continual questions are not a bother but… this is how I learn: on the spot.

My first garlic plant-ling has its shoots turning yellow… too early. I started around late Feb/early March. Out of curiosity I dug around it and noticed that it has completed developing its bulb… but hasn’t produced the cloves. What am I doing wrong? Is there a way to salvage it by cutting the dry yellow shoot… so that it can grow a new? Or is it too late? Not sure if it has to do with the weather (exposed to a lot of sun at the beginning after transplanting)… and now it’s raining a lot… a whole lot. One other question: the grass is growing around it in the same pot. Would that affect the garlic? Should I take them out? I love to see them though…

Btw: Took your advice: the carrot seeds are germinating and potted them. Thanks a million. :)

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Fern April 12, 2010 at 10:19 am

Lou Ann–No worries about asking questions. :-) From reading over your situation, it seems like the plant may not be able to take up any nutrients because the soil in the pot has too much water. I would let the pot dry out and see if things improve.

Beth April 12, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Fern,
You are such a God send. I appreciate how you take the time to answer all of our questions.
Thank you from all of us!!

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Lou Ann April 21, 2010 at 8:38 am

Hi Fern,

Once again I’m having garlic issues… but I have a feeling it’s because of the sun… extreme sun. I know the info given mentions that they need full sun. But since yesterday while the sun was revoltingly hot and beating them down… I noticed the youngest plant has been scorched. I wished to revive it but it’s been burnt badly. :(

I was so worried about them that I covered them with whatever I had.

I’m wondering if it’s the type of garlic they are: Holland Garlic. They seem to be okay in shadier places.

As for the first garlic with the first water mishap… I’m so curious and so puzzled. Its greens turned yellow and wilted away… leaving only the bulb. I confess I uprooted it… examined the poor fellow and all… but out of curiosity re-planted it… and it revived. It seems to be forming and a bit bigger. Call me crazy but curiosity got the better of me and now experimenting like a child. I’m lost as to how to have the garlics successfully grow without having their greens wilt so early. Should I snip its greens? How do they get enough sun?

Thanks so much for your patience and help. ^_^’

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Beth April 21, 2010 at 9:04 am

I planted cilantro about a month back and had good results … at first.
They little tine plants just don’t want to thrive and grow. They have long thin stems with a few leaves on top. Any suggestions?

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Fern April 21, 2010 at 11:13 am

Beth–Sounds like it might not be warm enough and they aren’t getting enough light.

Lou Ann–There are a number of possibilities. You could be over or under watering, the plants could be getting too much sun, it could be that they’re in too windy of a spot, or you might have an insect problem. Also, it could be that you are disrupting the plants when you dig around in their pots. If you break or damage the fine roots your plants have put out, you’re inhibiting their ability to take up water, and plants will wilt when they can’t get enough water. I would suggest less experimentation below the soil line. :-)

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Lou Ann April 21, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Okay insect concern: as I uncovered the mulch made of grass stalks… I’m seeing insects… tiny grey insects… running around with the crazy ants. I’m not sure whether they’re the good ones or the bad ones. How to tell? If they’re the bad ones… how to resolve? Is it the quality of the soil that attracts certain insects?

I’m no longer sure when to water the soil… as my mum told me plants that have its main root/bulb underground do not like much water… even if I stick my finger in it to test moisture. Any other suggestions?

Okay… one garlic plant is wilting again… so… I’d add more water… but it has to be chlorine free. I think that’s what happened to the first one: we had a drought and when the water came back… it had a lot of chlorine. I absent-mindedly watered the poor thing with it. I think that was part of the reason for it being the way it is… upon retrospect…

And okay… I’ll try to not put my curious hands in the pot again… lol

Thanks a million.

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kk May 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Thanks Lady Fern, your a big help. Keep up the good work and letting everyone know that if they cant afford organic food they can always plant them. A few years ago we couldn’t afford some of the expensive fruits and veggies that were organic so we thought about planting our own. People like you help make this planet a better place.

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Elizabeth September 6, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Hi there, I can’t believe it took me this long to find your site! I started a crazy garden on my balcony this year and for the first time in my life I didn’t manage to kill everything. I am, however, finding that I have a fertilization or some other problem with my tomatoes and cucumbers. I’m fairly certain there isn’t enough aeration in the containers though, so I’m going to try out the smart pots next year.

On another note, I live in DC and am wondering if you have any suggestions of things I can plant now for a late fall harvest or just that will look nice but do well in our fall climate.

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Dechoe August 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Hi Fern,
I live in Los Angeles – and have a balcony with not too much sunlight. What are some good vegetables, fruits, herbs that would grow successfully? And also how would lime/lemon trees do?

Thanks so much! This is a great site!

Dech

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Diane February 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Hi there,
I have a gardening question. Last year I experimented with planting tomatoes, parsley and sweet basil. I live in Atlanta, GA and I own a home with lots of overgrown trees so my sunlight is limited and in certain places that I would prefer to not grow a garden … however, I used my outdoor back deck last year to plant my tomatoes and herbs in pots and I didn’t do too badly. I do get some afternoon good sun so I’m thinking this year of planting a raised garden bed along side the house on the same side as my deck, but up along the house leading up to the deck. I know that perrenials and flowers seem to do ok in that area so thought I’d try gardening there. My question is, with a raised garden of around 1 foot high, would I need to dig up the clay and mix the soil that I will be putting in the bed with it? The soil that I plan to use is nature’s helper, manure and plant food fertilizer. I plan to plant tomatoes again to see how well they do there, also some of the herbs and will experiment with lettuce, cucumbers, etc … so many things I want to try but without adequate lighting, will try with the greener stuff first. Thank you so much for your blog. Diane

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Tiana February 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Was wondering what fruit n veggies r easy to plant with my kids. I have long narrow planter across my backyard. But unfortunately I dn’t have the green thumb.

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Fern February 28, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Hi Tiana! I think carrots or strawberries would be a good choice. They’re easy and most kids like eating them. There are little carrots that are shaped like balls (called ‘Round Romeo’) instead of the usual shape, kids might think they’re funny.

Cristie March 20, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Hi everyone. Well I just planted my container garden about a week ago. Its my first time ever growing anything at all. I am extremely excited about it. Out of the 9 containers 7 are already going crazy. And today I planted a couple more. But now I’m starting to freak out that I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

The problem is I don’t know what the next step is, or when to take it. When do I transfer them from the pots. And how do I do this? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

I have: green and red peppers. Cilantro, parsley, basil, squash, corn, carrots, lettuce, tomato, strawberries, spinach, chives, green onion, dill and snow peas. And I still want to plant others. But first I need to figure these out. Yikes!

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Daniele April 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Hello I am starting a garden this year for the first time and I am so afraid I will kill everything and waste time and money . I started with seeds and they are ready to be placed in the ground now. but I really prefer to put them in large pots to place on my large front porch instead of making a garden in my yard which is bug infested I live in the county outside of Houston TX where its hot and bug crazy here . So I think it would be better to take care of on the porch My question is I have cilantro , carrots, jalapenos, collard greens , okra, spanish onions, beef tomato’s, watermelon, basil, and garlic will these plants grow ok in large pots ? or do they need to go in the ground instead ?

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Fern April 3, 2012 at 12:16 am

Everything should be OK except the watermelon. Almost all varieties of watermelons are too vigorous to grow in pots.

jbt May 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm

i am planning to start a garden towards the beggining of july end of june i am useing this site so we can make it succesful wish me luck

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Judy July 22, 2012 at 9:23 am

When you are done planting your vegetables, you can have fun growing pet TickleMe Plant from seeds and watching how the leaves fold together one by one or all at once when Tickled.
http://www.ticklemeplant.com See video …just amazing!

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Willow November 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm

last year i attempted a small garden, some peppers, tomatos, basil, etc… lets just say that i hope this years garden turns out better….

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Edward February 5, 2013 at 4:37 am

Fern,can you help please with a simple book or place to start to get info,also the beautiful truth.documentry on you tube please watch it ty Fern :) Edward

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Fern March 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Oh, and here is a composting article that a guest poster wrote for LOTB: http://lifeonthebalcony.com/composting-on-the-balcony-the-easy-way-to-environmental-virtue/

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