Dig In: 5 Edible Crops for Pittsburgh Newbie Gardeners

Plus, when to plant, where to plant and what to do with leftovers.

Dan Higgins, owner and head nurseryman of Michael Bros. Nursery in West Deer Township, suggests this short list of plants that are appropriate for newbie growers. Each plant doesn’t require too much upkeep and is likely to reward your efforts with a bountiful harvest. 

Basil is easy to grow and a popular culinary ingredient.

Swiss chard isn’t too laborious to maintain. To add some serious color to your garden, consider the “bright lights” variety, which can have red-, orange-, yellow- or white-colored stems.

Lettuce comes in at least 10 varieties, and it looks ornamental in pots and bowls.

Higgins prefaces his blueberry bush recommendation with a handful of pluses: The bushes never give you trouble; they’re fun to eat; and deer won’t eat them.

Rhubarb is one of the most low-maintenance plants; “you plant it and it comes back year after year, thicker,” Higgins says.


Tired of the same old crops?

Matthew Hirsh, greenhouse manager and grower at Chapon's Greenhouse & Supply in Baldwin Borough, supplies a few options to help you get out of your rut. 

“Insanely hot peppers” have been a hit the past few years, he says. The plants are native to India, so they are used to a wetter climate. Before settling on the Trinidad scorpion and/or ghost chili pepper, remember that these are for those who truly can tolerate spice!

Grafted tomatoes are created by bonding an heirloom tomato, which dates back to the Pennsylvania Dutch, to a stronger tomato. As we’re all aware, tomatoes generally grow at a decent pace in the region.

“Ketchup 'n' fries” plants are what one would expect: a tomato plant attached to a potato plant; the tomatoes grow above ground and potatoes below.


Don't waste!

Have an abundance of an herb or leafy green? Make pesto with basil or spinach, and pour your creation into ice-cube trays; down the line, all you’ll need to do is pop out cubes for the recipe you’re making. Another preservation option: Take extra peppers, tomatoes, herbs and anything else that might be suitable and place it in the food processor to produce fresh salsa. Place the salsa in Mason jars and gift some of the excess supply to friends or relatives.

Get in on the fun!

If you didn’t yet start a garden, now is the time to begin. Hirsh says you still have time to get cucumbers and zucchini going because those plants grow rapidly and generally offer a decent yield this time of year. Lettuce and cauliflower also work, as they “like a warm start and don’t mind the cold,” Hirsh says.

Swap it out

If you have too many seedlings or packets of seeds, head to a plant swap. Neighborhood residents often hold casual get-togethers in a central location, while spots such as the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh also have presented similar events, often with a little more programming, such as workshops. 

Seeds vs. seedlings

Pittsburgh’s unpredictable weather can throw a curveball at gardeners. Matthew Hirsh says at minimum you’ll want to start tomatoes and peppers indoors. “They like a warmer soil condition,” he says. In addition, you can start leafy plants (think kale) inside. Before planting tomato seedlings, you may want to set cages so that the crop’s vine can grow upward. Cucumbers and zucchini “grow so fast,” he says, that you can plant seeds directly into your garden. Same goes for potatoes and peas — which typically are planted around St. Patrick’s Day.

Keep it contained

Don’t have a yard, or perhaps you’re limited on space? Container gardens are great for those looking to grow their own food. You may fill pots, bowls and other containers with everything from herbs to tomatoes, which grow best in large vessels. As a rule, Dan Higgins says, “the bigger the pot and the more [potting] soil [for the crop], the better.” If you don’t have experience with container gardening, Higgins recommends consulting an expert, such as a seasoned grower at your neighborhood garden center. 

Just add water

Did you know you can sprout plants indoors without soil? With the proper materials — a Mason jar, strainer lid and water — and care, you can drop in sprouting seeds and watch such things as broccoli grow within days.

Go-to for gardening

Grow Pittsburgh is a great all-around resource, particularly because it presents cost-free workshops; past sessions have covered budget-friendly container gardening and soil testing.



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