What do I Grow?

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Justine Hoover

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

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Benefitting from Our Neighbor’s Talents

Gardening is not my strong suit. Quite honestly, the thought of gardening and planting flowers brings a lot of stress! After years of attempting to garden and losing motivation due to brown flowers and plants, I eventually came to terms with the fact that my family’s produce would need to be purchased from the grocery store or a local farmer’s market. Fortunately, one of our neighbors has a gift and has planted a garden to share with a few families on our street. Like mentioned in the previous gardening posts, our neighbor has done the research to determine what items to grow in her garden. With a lot of trial and error, she has become quite successful!

Although I don’t grow my own garden, my family has been able to benefit from our neighbor’s talents and enjoy the fruit of her labor. Before the growing season begins, she asks for our input on what seeds to purchase and takes donations from neighbors to help offset the cost of seeds, dirt, fencing (to attempt to keep away the bunnies), and additional items she may need to purchase to upgrade her garden space. As part of our contribution, our toddler provides art for her garden space and neighbors help by pulling weeds and planting. As the vegetables begin to grow, she divides up the produce and shares it with those who have made contributions. We have learned a lot from our neighbor over the past few years and gardening has helped us build a new connection with her.

Neighborhood gardens can be a great way to use everyone’s skills and share in some of the costs. We don’t have the time or the space to create a successful garden in our backyard, so having a neighbor who enjoys the work and is willing to share her talents with us has been a great experience. Check out this Neighborhood Gardens blog from our friends over at AnswerLine that highlights additional tips on how to get started!

Later this summer I will be sharing what our neighbor has been able to grow, as well as different recipes we will make at home with the fresh produce.

Cheers to building connections through neighborhood gardens!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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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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Plant. Grow. Share.

plant grow share

Is your garden overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash or zucchini and you are not quite sure what to do with the extra harvest? Consider donating your fresh garden produce to your local food pantry.

Many food pantries are in need of fresh produce for their clients. And while some gardeners are aware of produce donation some hesitate to take excess produce to a food pantry because of concerns of liability and donated produce going to waste.

But you don’t have to worry; Good Samaritan Laws protect you from any liability when donating produce. While produce does not have a long shelf life, it’s always the first off the shelves so it never goes to waste. Since fresh produce is an uncommon item at food pantries, every little bit helps and your community will thank you for it.

If you are donating produce to a food pantry or other organization, check out this great tip sheet on safe produce handling practices.

HOW CAN I HELP?

Cultivate Iowa is asking you to donate extra garden produce to your local food pantry. You don’t need to have a big garden to donate; any amount is helpful and needed. So if you find yourself with extra produce throughout the year, please consider donating to your local food pantry.

READY TO START DONATING?

STEP 1: Make the promise today to donate tomorrow and help your community. Go to www.CultivateIowa.org and click on ‘Donate Produce’ at the top of the page.

Step 2: Click the red ‘I PROMISE TO DONATE FRESH PRODUCE’ button and enter your email address and zip code.

Step 3: Enter your zip code in the green box to find locations in your community where you can donate fresh produce.

Step 4. Deliver your produce to the food pantry soon after it has been picked.Veggies in bowl

In the words of one Iowa gardener “Zucchini is a gateway drug. Once you get growers hooked on how good donating feels, they will find other produce to share as well.”

The Cultivate Iowa campaign aims to cultivate food security and improve health of Iowans by increasing access to garden produce through integrated coordination, social marketing and outreach strategies specifically targeting low-resource Iowans and food gardeners. Cultivate Iowa is a signature project of the Iowa Food Systems Council’s Food Access and Health Work Group. To learn more about the Cultivate Iowa initiative, go to www.CultivateIowa.org.

Guest Blogger,

angie signature

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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Get Your Updated Garden Publications

It is almost time to plant the garden. You do not need a big space, container gardens and small plots (like 4’x4’ plot) will produce enough for you to enjoy that fresh garden taste. A couple of years ago, I blogged about “My Top Ten Reasons to Garden”. I skimmed them this morning and they are still on target.

The Iowa State University Horticulture department recently updated several publications with all the new cultivars, for the home gardener. They are available to download or you can purchase them from our store.

Container Vegetable Gardening

PM 0870B

Includes information regarding: container construction, size, and capacity; crop selection and planting density; summer care (location, watering, fertilization, tomato tips). Lists suggestions for 12 container garden vegetables (more than 40 cultivars) including: carrots, cucumbers, peppers, spinach, and tomatoes.  Gives a recipe for soiless potting mix.

Small Plot Vegetable Gardening

PM 0870A

This publication outlines recommendations and techniques for growing quality vegetables in a limited space, including planning, site selection, summer care, and space saving techniques. Lists suggestions for 16 garden vegetables (more than 50 varietals) including: cucumbers, green beans, peppers, pole beans, spinach, tomatoes, summer and winter squash, and others.

Planting a Home Vegetable Garden

PM 0819

Provides basic how-to information, including seedbed preparation, seed selection and sowing, and using transplants. Chart gives planting guidelines for 37 vegetables.

If you have a question, check out the Yard and Garden FAQs Home Page.  The database has answers to over 750 commonly asked questions on a wide range of gardening topics.

Can a Vegetable Garden Save You Money?

That’s the title of an article by Cindy Haynes, Extension Horticulturalist. Her answer was “yes” if done correctly. She goes on to quote a book about $64 tomatoes. 

We laugh in my family about the “$10,000” garden that my sisters and Dad share. It has high fences to keep out the deer, cement borders, table and benches, and a shed for storing equipmentplus it is connected to the yard irrigation system. We grow several varieties of tomatoes and peppers as well as peas, green beans, zucchini, onions, radishes, cucumbers, rhubarb, asparagus, raspberries, and lettuce in the garden. We have grown white and sweet potatoes, winter squash, melons, broccoli, and eggplant. I don’t think anyone keeps track of what they spend on the garden, but I do know that the garden supplies all of us (and many friends) with loads of fresh, delicious fruits and veggies. Besides enjoying “the fruit of our labors,” the garden provides hours of discussion and shared activity.

If you are new to gardening, I strongly recommend that you start small as Cindy recommends. I had container gardens for years and enjoyed tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, et cetera which grew on the patio. Cindy’s article includes a list of ISU publications you can get at your county ISU Extension office, or you may download a pdf version from the ISU Extension Online Store.

-pointers from Peggy

Winter squash or pumpkins in abundance?

My sisters, dad and I share a garden spot. We try to coordinate so that we all work in the garden at the same time because it is more fun that way, but with our schedules that doesn’t happen very often. This spring when we were planting, a couple of times someone planted over the top of something that was already in the ground (this is why we had peppers growing in the bean rows). I was determined to have some winter squash, so I planted a whole row of seeds about 3” apart and put milk cartons filled with water every foot to mark the row. To make a long story short, I didn’t thin the plants, so the squash took over a corner of the garden and now we have lots of acorn squash. If you have an abundance of winter squash or pumpkins, here are some helps:

-pointers by Peggy

 

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