“What do I grow?” That is a question I ask myself every year when I start thinking about my garden. And the answer is different every year. In my previous home, my garden was much larger, so I had a lot more options. Over the 11 years I worked in that garden, I planted lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, corn, broccoli, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, squash, peas, green beans, potatoes, and flowers. No two years were the same.
Now I live in a home with more shade trees, so my garden is smaller. This will be my third year of deciding what to plant here. Since space is tight, I have to be more selective about what I plant. So, I do three things when deciding what to grow.
I take into account my family’s preferences. I have learned over the years that my family prefers peppers fresh out of the garden, but they prefer it if I make the tomatoes into juice and freeze it for soups and sauces in the winter. This tells me I need to plant several different types of peppers, but I only need to plant tomatoes that are good for freezing.
I ask my children what they would like to plant. I always let my children pick a packet of seeds they want to plant because it makes them more interested in the garden. They do a better job of pulling the weeds when they are motivated to see their little seeds grow into big plants. Some years their choices work out and some years they don’t, and that is ok.
I consider my space. After I have thought about my family’s preferences and found out what my children want to plant, I consider how much space I have left. With my extra space, I may try something new or I may plant something just for me. Last summer I planted a beautiful yellow zucchini plant that was just for me.
Later this summer, when I start to harvest my garden, I will give you an update on my choices for this year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Is your garden overflowing? I don’t have many tomatoes yet, but lots of everything else! I know some of my neighbors have been busy canning and freezing beans and other garden goodies. Canning and freezing may or may not save money (depending on how many supplies you have to purchase), but the end result definitely tastes good. Although home food preservation has been done for years, we learn more all the time about how to do it more safely and with better quality results. The ‘way Grandma did it’ may not follow current recommendations. For example,
Did you know you are supposed to add acid (lemon juice or citric acid) to every jar of canned tomatoes to keep them safe?
Did you know you are supposed to follow a tested recipe (not just one you got from a from a friend’s friend) for things like salsa, relish, and—in fact—all home canned items?
Did you know that ‘steam canners’ are not safe, even though you still see them sold in stores?
Did you know there is a new recommendation to leave jars in a pressure canner for 10 minutes after processing and leave jars in a water bath for 5 minutes after processing?