Growing Vegetables in Pots

This week in our gardening series, I’m going to share the plans my son and I have for doing some container gardening at our house.

Growing up on a farm, I helped my mom with our garden. And one year I even planned the garden out and had it as a 4-H project. Since that time though, the only gardening I’ve done was a few years ago when my daughter was a toddler and my son was 5 or 6 and I tried growing some carrots, lettuce and tomatoes in pots on our deck. It went….okay. The tomatoes were too big for the pot so they didn’t grow that well and the carrots were too bunched so didn’t grow very big. Lessons learned!

Fast forward to this year when my son is 11 and is interested in having a garden. Instead of digging up a space in our yard, we’ve decided to grow a few things in containers on our deck again. We have a neighbor who is a talented woodworker who made some wooden planters for us to use.

My son and I have decided to grow cherry tomatoes, peppers, and some lettuce. I’d also like to grow some basil. To help me do a better job at choosing varieties of these vegetables that grow well in containers, I’m going to use this handout on Container Vegetable Gardening. I’m looking forward to this gardening adventure with my kids! Check back later this summer and see if things are going better than they did the last time I tried growing vegetables in a pot!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Herb Gardening in Small Spaces

Last week we heard about our friend Jill’s experience with gardening throughout her life. She shared some wonderful tips for planning a garden and using the information on seed packets to help you make decisions. I would like to share a slightly different perspective. I live in a small house and I do not have land to till up and plant a garden. I still love to grow some food though, so I do container gardening.

Container gardening is a very simple approach to gardening that allows you to use a patio or porch to grow food in pots or other containers. It is helpful when you do not have land to till up or when you just want to grow a few plants and not a whole garden.

Herbs are my favorite food to grow in the summer in Iowa. They thrive in the sun and warm weather. They are easy to maintain. I just water them whenever their soil becomes dry to the touch. Herbs will even grow inside if you have a very sunny window for them. It is so wonderful to be able to snip a few sprigs to add flavor to my cooking. Herbs are rather expensive at the grocery store and they spoil quickly, so being able to cut them from the back patio is a real treat.

  • Parsley is delightful in salads and as a final topper for things like roasted veggies or fish.
  • Basil tastes delicious with tomatoes and pasta. I also love sliced basil stirred into cottage cheese.
  • Rosemary, sage and thyme are tasty additions to roasted veggies. Toss them with the veggies before cooking and enjoy.

If you have a sunny spot and a sturdy container of soil, you’re ready to get started! For a bit more information, check out Growing Herbs in Containers from our friends in Iowa State University’s Horticulture department. Next week Jody will share about her experience growing vegetables in containers at her house.

Happy Gardening!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Gardening Starts With the Seeds

Each year, as the days get longer and temperatures rise, garden catalogs begin to fill our mailbox and planning for our garden begins once again.  My husband and I each grew up in homes with large vegetable gardens.  His mom had a separate potato garden and my family sold sweet corn and tomatoes at our farm.  I remember dad putting the sign up at the end of our driveway each summer.   My family used the money we made selling tomatoes and sweet corn for a summer vacation just before school started.   As you might imagine, my husband and I have enjoyed planning, planting and harvesting our own vegetable garden through the years.  What we plant and how big our garden is has changed through the years, as the season of our life dictates. Some years, our schedule for the summer hasn’t allowed time for gardening, and what we plant has also changed as our interest in certain vegetables has changed.   

So, what do we grow?  We enjoy growing tomatoes, onions, peppers, several kinds of herbs, carrots, broccoli, kale, lettuce and spinach. 

Questions we ask ourselves as we decide what to grow include: What do we like to eat?  How much space will it take to grow?  Is there another way to obtain this food?  How expensive is it to buy?  How difficult is it to grow?

Once we decide what we are going to grow, it’s time to find the best way to grow it.  You can buy seeds and you can also buy small plants to transplant into your garden.  As seasonal stores open up in grocery store parking lots and at local nurseries, you will find seed displays and often small plants to purchase.  One place you can check with for seeds is at your local county extension office.  They sometimes give away free seeds.  These seeds are typically last season’s seeds—but are still a great source for free seeds.  You can also use your SNAP benefits to buy seeds. 

The next step is to plan your garden.  You will need to consider how much space each item you plant will need, how deep to plant them and how much product you can expect. The seed packet will have information on it to help you answer these questions. Be sure and read both sides to help you be successful with your garden.  It’s a good idea to keep track of when you plant the seed. We write the date on our calendar.  Keeping track of the date will help you know when to expect to be able to harvest the produce.   

The seed packet will tell you:

  • The company the seed is from and how much seed you will get in the packet.  
  • A picture of what you will be growing.
  • The kind of seed and the name of the variety. 
  • How much sun the growing plant prefers and the height of the mature plant. 
  • Where and when to plant the seed.  There are often also brief statements about how to prepare and use the item you will be growing. 
  • How to plant the seed, how long of row or how many hills the seeds will plant. 
  • How many days it will take after planting for the seeds to germinate or sprout. You will be able to find how many days it will take after planting for the seeds to mature and you will be able to harvest a crop.
  •  Conditions the plant will grow in, what the plant prefers.
  • How to harvest and use the produce.

You may think gardens require a big piece of land, but they do not have to. If your schedule is busy, or you don’t have access to a garden plot, consider container gardening.  Tomatoes and peppers grow well in containers on a porch or front step.  Some communities also offer community garden plots where you can rent space to grow your garden. 

If you would like additional garden information, check out this publication from ISU Extension and Outreach.  Want Yard or Garden Information? Ask Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Written by Jill Weber

Human Sciences Specialist, Nutrition and Wellness

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Let’s Grow Tomatoes!

Cherry tomatoesLast week Christine shared about how she grows greens in containers on her patio. This week I am going to share about my gardening experiences with tomatoes. My family and I have a pretty large garden in our back yard. We usually fill about half of it with tomato plants because we love to eat them fresh and make them into tomato juice to enjoy all year long.

This “Tomatoes” growing guide is a great read if you are interested in trying some tomatoes in your garden this year or if you would like to improve the health and yield of your tomato plants. Here are some practical tips I have picked up as I have experimented with growing tomatoes in my own garden:

  • Choose the right varieties of tomatoes for my garden. This one takes a little trial and error. I have found that Better Boy and Super Sweet 100 tomatoes grow best in my garden.
  • Plant tomatoes between May 15th and June 1st. After May 15th, I should be able to avoid frost killing my plants. If I get my plants in before June 1st, I can enjoy a longer growing season and a higher yield.
  • Use tomato cages. Large, tall tomato cages allow the plants to grow big, healthy, and strong. They are also easier to manage than tomatoes that are staked up or tomatoes that are allowed to grow along the ground.

Thankfully, you do not need a large garden to enjoy growing fresh tomatoes at home.  Depending on the plant size, tomatoes can be grown in 2-4 gallon containers. The Container Vegetable Gardening guide gives ideas for the variety of tomato that would be best for your home.

I hope you can get outside and enjoy gardening this year!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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