Overview: Beets (Beta vulgaris) are a hardy vegetable that can survive the cold temperatures of New England. These colorful plants are a great addition to your garden and are perfect for a beginner gardener!

Three newly harvested beets sit on a bed of grass
Three newly-harvested chiogga beets from the Merrimack Garden
A white bowl holds three different colors of beets: golden, bull's blood red, and chiogga, which has pink and white stripes
A bowl of chiogga (striped), golden, and bull’s blood beets

Seed Starting: Plant seeds in soil that is free of rocks, as their roots cannot develop properly with them in the way. Seeds should be planted very early spring, about 4 weeks before the last frost. A second crop can be sown in early August. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1-2 inches apart from each other directly into the bed in which you wish to grow them. Beet seeds (little balls) are actually a clump of 2-4 seeds. Soaking them before planting can speed germination and soften that hard seed coat. Make sure they are watered sufficiently for proper germination as well!

To level up, consider multi-sowing beets, which means starting multiple seeds in trays or six-packs before transplanting into the garden (Source: Tiny Garden Habit). As the beets mature in a group, they push the other beets out. You simply harvest the biggest one of the bunch and let the others continue to grow. 

Growing Advice: Beets prefer full sun – at least 6 hours a day! Once your seeds germinate and start to grow, you should thin your plants to around 5-6 inches apart so that their roots will have space to spread. No need to pull up the plants to do this – you can just cut off the greens at the tops to not disturb the other beets. They should get 1 inch of water per square foot weekly.

Harvesting Advice: Beets push up and show their size above ground. When a beet reaches the desired size (maybe 1-3 inches in diameter), gently pull it from the ground. Note that beets can lose their sweetness and become “woody” if they get too big.

Sauteed Beet Greens Recipe

While beets are tasty, their leaves are equally so! Here is a zero-waste recipe for sautéed beet tops. (Originally found here). You will need:

  • 1 bunch beet greens
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • Lemon wedge
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts or pistachios
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Separate the stems from the beet greens. Finely chop the stems and coarsely chop the leaves.
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and the beet stems and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the beet greens, a few pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté, tossing, until just wilted.
  • Turn off the heat, add the raisins, a big squeeze of lemon, and toss. Transfer to a platter, top with the walnuts and season to taste with more salt and pepper.

Written by Sophia Beland


Overview: Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.) is a species of flower native to the United States that will attract many butterflies and other pollinators to your garden!

Seed Starting: Milkweed plants will have a deep system of roots and will prefer to be planted far apart, about 18 inches. They are also best planted in the fall.

Growing, Harvest, and Special Advice: Common milkweed can survive in a drier environment, so watering only when the soil appears dry will be sufficient. They are quite an easygoing plant, as they need not be fertilized either! Milkweed, as it is a native plant, can survive in subpar soil conditions. Because milkweed has a deep root system, it is not recommended to transplant plants once fully grown. They will also spread their seeds over time and replant themselves.


Overview: Dill is a light-tasting herb, useful in many dishes: fish, chicken soup, potato salad, dips, pickles. It’s easy to grow, helpful to pollinators, and excellent as a companion plant. 

Seed Starting: Plant seeds ¼ inch deep, spaced about 8 to 10 inches apart, after danger of spring frost (Source: University of Minnesota Extension). Direct sow, as dill does not like to be transplanted. This plant will readily reseed, offering easy harvests year after year.  

This is a dill plant with a yellow flower umbel on top
Flowering dill

Growing Advice: Dill will reach 2 to 4 feet tall and be 1 to 2 feet wide. It has feathery foliage and sends up several yellow flowers, reminiscent of Queen Anne’s lace. Dill, Queen Anne’s lace, carrots, and others are all in the umbelliferae family [Source: Farming While Black].

Pollinators love dill. It is a host plant for black swallowtail butterflies!

Harvesting: Harvest the feathery leaves to use fresh in many dishes. Dill also leaves dry and store nicely for future use. Let the big yellow flowers go to seed to have “volunteer” dill plants next year. Or save the seeds to make dill pickles.

Dill Potato Salad Recipe (from Spend with Pennies)


  • 3 pounds potatoes white or red skinned
  • 1 ½ cups celery diced
  • 3 tablespoons green onion finely sliced
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise 
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons fresh dill minced
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard


  • Boil the potatoes until tender (approx. 15-20 minutes). Cool and cut into bite sized pieces.
  • In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except the potatoes.
  • Combine cooled potatoes with dill mixture and refrigerate at least one hour.


Overview: Lettuce is an easy-to-grow garden staple that prefers cooler temperatures.

Seed Starting: Lettuce can be direct-sown into gardens or containers. Several hours of sun and some shade (particularly in the afternoon) will be welcome. Cover seeds with fine soil no more than a quarter inch deep. Some folks even scatter lettuce seeds on the soil surface and gently tap or rake them in. Give newly-planted seeds a good watering. 

This is a bowl of mixed greens, including speckled lettuce, red lettuce, and arugula.
Salad mixes include a variety of flavors, colors, and textures

Depending on the variety, lettuce can be spaced 6-12 inches apart. If using a salad mix, consider scattering seeds closer than that and harvesting leaves here and there to thin plants out. 

Because lettuce tolerates and even prefers cooler temperatures, it can have two crops. Plant the first about 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost and the second in early August in New England. Lettuce can also be started in small pots and transplanted at these times. 

Growing Advice: Lettuce does not like to dry out. Give it frequent waterings. Lettuce may be munched by hungry slugs and other opportunistic critters. Keep an eye on the growing lettuce and visit the “Managing Pests” section of this blog as needed. 

Harvesting: Pick whole heads of lettuce or harvest leaves here and there to keep the main plant growing. Lettuce will “bolt” (grow tall and send up seeds) when the temperatures soar. At this time, lettuce can become bitter. However, harvesting leaves in the cool of the morning and soaking for a few minutes in ice water can reduce the bitterness. Store cleaned lettuce in the fridge in plastic bags or repurposed containers to preserve freshness. 

Salad Recipes by Lisa

After washing lettuce a few times to remove dirt and critters, rip up the leaves into bite-sized pieces. 

Experiment with seasonal pairings:

  • Lettuce with watermelon chunks, feta, pistachios and balsamic vinegar is divine. 
  • Consider trying raspberries, gorgonzola, walnuts, and a dressing of your choice as well. 
  • On a hot summer night, salad with grilled chicken and any available garden veggies hits the spot.


Overview: When starting from seed, there are two categories that beans can be grouped into: pole beans and bush beans. Both types are almost identical, but pole beans will climb once the plants progress in growth, and will need some form of support to grow on. Bush beans will require less maintenance in this way, but pole beans will typically produce a larger quantity of beans to harvest.

burgundy beans (purple in color)
Burgundy beans (bush type)
Scarlet runner beans (with green pods) hang from their vine
Scarlet runner beans (pole type)

Seed Starting: Beans typically grow best when planted directly outdoors. Because they generate their own nitrogen for use in the soil, they will not need supplemental compost or fertilizer unless your soil quality is particularly poor. Sow bush beans 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart in rows that are around a foot and a half apart. Sow pole beans the same way, but be sure to set up stakes for support around them prior to planting seeds (source).

Growing, Harvest, and Special Advice: If you continue to plant beans year after year, they will benefit from crop rotation (that is, planting them in a different bed or patch of soil the next year) to prevent diseases. Beans should be watered often, about 2 inches of water per square foot of soil weekly. It is also best recommended to water on sunny days to prevent moldering of plants. Once pole beans reach the top of their supports, you can pinch off the extra stems to encourage the plant to put more energy into growing bean pods instead of getting taller. They should also be harvested in the morning when their sugar content is at its highest – the more you harvest, the more will grow!


Easy Garlic Green Beans (original recipe can be found here):

  • 1 pound of trimmed green beans, washed, drained, and halved crosswise
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 to 12 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 1 small onion (½ cup), sliced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  1. Bring 3 cups of water in a large pot to boil over medium high heat. Stir in the salt.
  2. Add the beans and cook for 7 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to cook evenly.
  3. Remove from the heat. Drain the beans through a strainer over a bowl. Reserve ½ cup of the bean cooked water for later use.
  4. Put the same pot back on the stove. Turn on the heat to medium high.
  5. Add the vegetable oil and garlic, stirring with a wooden spoon for 1 minute, until the garlic start to get a little crispy and light brown.
  6. Add the beans, the reserved ½ cup bean cooked water, soy sauce, and onion.
  7. Cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, occasionally turning and flipping with the wooden spoon, until the soy sauce mixture boils down and the beans turn savory and tender. Remove from the heat and stir in sesame oil.
  8. Transfer to a serving bowl or plate and serve with rice. The leftovers can be refrigerated up to 1 week.

Written By Sophia Beland.


Overview: Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is one of the most well-known and versatile herbs out there. They are also very hardy and easy to grow for even the most novice gardeners.

This is a mound of light green parsley with serrated leaves.
Flat-leaf parsley (source: PublicDomainPictures)

Seed Starting: To sow parsley indoors, such as in a small pot to keep in your garden window, sow seeds ½ inch deep. If planting outdoors, sow seeds 1 ¼ inch deep and about 3 inches apart from one another (source).

Growing, Harvest, and Special Advice: Parsley will thrive in deep pots or beds, and will do well in heavily composted soil. Plants should be in partial shade. If planted outside, parsley will do well with companion plants of carrots, chives, onions, or tomatoes. Planting parsley around asparagus plants will repel asparagus beetles.

Recipe for Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is a refreshing Mediterranean side dish that can be eaten with hummus and pita bread. Original recipe can be found here.

To start, combine cooked and cooled bulgur wheat (1/2 cup uncooked) finely chopped cucumber and tomatoes (1 cup each) in a bowl. Pulse parsley (around 3 medium sized bunches) in a food processor until finely chopped. Add parsley to your bowl with bulgur, tomatoes, and cucumber. You can also add fresh mint (one medium bunch) to the food processor with your parsley if you wish. To make the dressing, combine fresh minced scallion (1/3 cup), EVOO (1/3 cup), salt (1 tsp), lemon juice (1/4 cup), and a couple chopped garlic cloves. Mix everything together and serve chilled. Tabbouleh will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

Written By Sophia Beland.


Overview:Tomatoes are a fruit (yes a fruit–although commonly referred to as a vegetable) These fruit are sweet and acidic used all over the world

Five heirloom tomatoes in red, orange, and purple sit on a wooden cutting board.
Heirloom tomatoes

Seed Starting: Tomatoes need lots of sunlight or growing lights. Start in damp seed starting mix, 2-3 seeds per pot, and ¼ inches deep. Start tomatoes about 8 weeks before your last frost date. This is right around Merrimack’s spring break. . Space your tomatoes 2 or more feet apart.

Growing Advice: Tomatoes need full sun and lots of moisture. If the soil is dry an inch down, offer them a good soak. Tomatoes are subject to blight, a fungal disease, so keep leaves off of the ground and water at the base of the plant (rather than spraying the leaves). Tomatoes often do well with a fence or equivalent to let the vines climb rather than droop or touch the ground

Recipe for Homemade Tomato Sauce

  • Start with 8-10 medium to large tomatoes (this will be a smaller batch of sauce) or 14 or more to make a larger batch. (Tomatoes on the vine or Roma tomatoes work best for me!)
  • Slice an “X” on the bottom of your tomatoes and bring them to a boil in a large pot.
  • When the skin of the tomato becomes loose or is coming off completely remove from boiling water and place in a bowl of ice water.
  • Remove all the skin and stem parts (the white parts) from tomatoes and crush. Crushing by hand is the original and best way but if you prefer you can use a potato masher or equivalent to break down the tomatoes!
  • When all the tomatoes are crushed to your preference (you can crush them or even blend them to pure liquid consistency or leave some chunks of tomatoes for texture) put back in pot and return to a simmer.
  • Add 4-6 cloves of garlic, a hefty sprinkle of salt and pepper, a 1/2 cup of olive oil (or to your liking), Italian seasonings of your liking (basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, etc.), and minced onion (or a whole onion with the ends cut off, also marked with an “X” on both ends, not enough to cut through the whole onion, and remove from sauce when soft or if layers begin to peel)
  • Simmer until all ingredients are combined and sauce thickens in consistency (if desired some prefer a thin sauce and you can just combine ingredients and use sauce as desired!)
  • For Gravy you can add meat to your sauce; sausage, meatballs, beef cubes, etc. (pre-cooked)

Written by: Jackie Rosney


Overview: Carrots come in a variety of colors, are easy-to-grow, and store nicely after harvest. 

Seed Starting: Carrots prefer rich, sandy soil and a sunny location. They can also grow well in containers. Regular varieties prefer a soil depth of 10-12 inches. Short varieties, like “Scarlet Nantes,” “Chantenay,” or the unusually round “Parisian,” are perfect for more shallow gardens. 

Three orange carrots sit on the grass.
Three orange carrots from the Merrimack Garden

Sow carrot seeds directly into soil, ¼ inch deep, in rows about a foot apart (source: Farmer’s Almanac). Thin carrots to about 3 inches apart once they’ve sprouted. Clip off little seedlings to be thinned (perhaps using nail scissors) because pulling them up might also disrupt the carrots you want to keep growing. Almost all seed starting advice says to keep seeds moist after planting, but it really is true with carrots. 

Growing Advice: Carrots can even be grown twice a year in New England! Plant a spring crop (starting a few weeks before the last frost date) and a fall crop in late summer. 

Harvesting: Carrots often show their “shoulders” to give a preview of how wide they are. Harvest early for “baby” carrots or wait for a bigger carrot. Carrots take 60-80 (or more) days until harvest. Try to be patient. 

Carrots store well (with their tops snipped off), in a sealed bag in the fridge. Consider using the tops to make pesto! 

Recipe for Carrot Cake

Try this Southern Living carrot cake recipe that Chrissy Teigen loves. Dr. Perks made it near the start of the pandemic and agrees its delicious.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1 (3 1/2-ounce) can flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Baking Steps:

  • Step 1 Line 3 (9-inch) round cakepans with wax paper; lightly grease and flour wax paper. Set pans aside.
  • Step 2 Stir together first 4 ingredients.
  • Step 3 Beat eggs and next 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed until blended. Fold in carrot and next 3 ingredients. Pour batter into prepared cakepans.
  • Step 4 Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Drizzle Buttermilk Glaze evenly over layers; cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks. Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.


Overview: Kale is a cold-tolerant, versatile green, useful in salads, soups, “chips,” and as a steamed side dish. Kale can have two crops in New England: one planting before the last spring frost and one planting at the tail end of summer, with a harvest lasting into fall. 

This image is of green and red kale leaves.
Red Kale and Blue Curled Scotch Kale grow well in the Merrimack Garden

Seed Starting Advice: Kale can be started indoors under grow lights or on a sunny windowsill about 8-10 weeks before the last frost (end of March is good). Or, direct seed it in late April. Same goes for mid-to-late August–either direct seed or start in pots. Choose seed starting soil or a potting mix and plant seeds about ¼ inch deep. 

Growing Advice: Space seedlings about 12-16 inches apart. Slugs may attack young seedlings. If starting seeds in pots, it helps to wait until they’re about 2-4 inches tall before transplanting. Collars made of toilet paper rolls or paper cups may also protect young seedlings. (photo needed) Common pests include the cabbage worm. Pick off worms (which often color match to the kale) or consider an organic spray of Bt (which will kill other types of caterpillars such as monarchs) or Neem oil.

Harvesting: Pick just a few leaves off a plant as needed and watch the plant continue to produce for months. Baby kale is excellent for salads. Some cooks will even massage the leaves to soften them. Kale that is older, more leathery, and even ruffled will be great for kale chips. (Flatter kales tend to stick to the baking sheet.)

Recipe for Kale Chips (from Lisa)

  • Wash the leaves and rip into bite-sized pieces.
  • Dry them well. If you have time, let the leaves sit in a bowl in the fridge for hours of even a few days.
  • When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 300.
  • Use a tablespoon of olive oil and two dashes of soy sauce for about 3 cups of kale leaves. Rub the oil and soy sauce into the kale leaves, spreading the mixture well.
  • Next, place kale leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  • Bake for about 12 minutes.
  • Leaves should be crispy but not be too dried out. It also works well to check at about 10 minutes, remove already-crispy leaves, and let the rest bake for 2 minutes or so longer.

Keeping Your Garden Safe from Pests

If you prepare your soil well, follow the plant spacing guides, and water as needed, you’re already off to a good gardening start. This post offers advice on how to tackle the next big problem for gardeners: pests. 

One of the main reasons vegetables gardens or flowers are unsuccessful is that pests have successfully feasted on them. This post is divided into fencing for the bigger animals and other methods to curb the insects. 

First, the good stuff: embrace spiders, snakes, birds, toads, bees, and many other bugs in your garden. You can all work in harmony together. 

Good Fences Make Good Gardeners

Even if you don’t “see” pests around, there’s a good chance they’re in your yard or visiting your deck. Deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, chipmunks, voles, woodchucks, and others can steal a harvest or hurt plants. 

If you start a large garden, consider adding poultry wire or other fencing to the perimeter. Sinking the fencing a few feet into the ground will also help. For a few hundred dollars and a bit of labor, you can have some peace of mind. 

If you choose not to fence, check your plants daily (especially when they’re young) and react quickly to noticeable damage. It is possible to spray deterrents (like “Liquid Fence” that will keep some animals away. However, these sprays often smell bad (not great for patios/decks with seating) and need to be reapplied after rain. 

Barriers, Sprays, and Hand-Picking: Battling Insects and Fungus

Insects can be hard to see and tricky to identify. Google lens might tell you what you have: spider mites, vine borers, cabbage worms, tomato hornworms, etc.  

For larger, slower insects (e.g., caterpillars, beetles), picking them off and dropping them into a bucket of soapy water can do the trick. This can be time-consuming, but it’s quite effective and doesn’t harm the broader ecosystem. 

Neem oil is a good general-purpose organic spray that can take care of aphids, mites, and some other insects. 

Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis kills caterpillars by paralyzing their digestive systems. It is organic and is considered (by most) to be harmless to humans. This spray will kill cabbage worms–but it will also kill monarch caterpillars and those other “beautiful” butterfly larva. It’s best to use any spray pest control sparingly and in targeted areas. 

A brick raised garden bed holds small garlic plants in the front. At the back of the garden bed a round tent of white floating row cover keeps young plants safe in the early spring.
Floating row cover keeps
young plants safe.

Row covers are another organic method for keeping pests separate from plants. Dr. Perks is currently trying this method to prevent squash vine borers (aka clearwing moths) from eating her squash plants. 

Additional Tips and Tricks

Crop Rotation: Planting different types or families of vegetables in different spots year to year can help prevent pest damage. Pests (like squash vine borers) overwinter in the soil. Moving a pest’s buffet to a different garden bed or space the following year may slow the pest down. 

A dangerous fungus (verticillium wilt) will also build up in the soil and harm plants like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant. Verticillium wilt causes yellow foliage, wilting, and even death. If you had fantastic tomatoes one year and pitiful tomatoes the next, verticillium may be why. Rotate these crops to different beds annually. 

Companion Planting: Companion planting refers to planting two or more types of plants near one another for at least one plant’s benefit. For example, the Merrimack Garden has onions planted near kale and broccoli. Onions are said to give broccoli better flavor. We also have basil planted near tomatoes to repel tomato hornworms. 

Gardening is a lot of trial and error. Pay attention to your plants, do your best to meet their needs, and if that doesn’t work…try again next year!