Enjoy the Bounty of a Backyard Garden
Do you wish you had more control over the quality of the food your family eats? Right now, you may have more time on your hands and a sharper than average focus on staying healthy. This may be the perfect opportunity to plant your own little garden.
Whether you have a big yard, one flower bed, or even a couple of planters on your condo balcony, you can green up your thumb with a few easy to grow, super healthy, and tasty mini crops that will keep you and yours in fresh vegetables this summer.
The Biggest Bang
If you have limited space or time (or both), it’s best to concentrate on vegetables that are high quality, low maintenance, and above-average producers. Here are three excellent choices:
This squash is incredibly versatile in the kitchen and beautiful in planters. It can be steamed, baked, stir-fried, grilled, made into vegetable chips, soups, and curries. It also makes delicious bread and cookies!
Zucchini is a high producer, even grown in a container. This vegetable is filled with fiber and offers easy preparation (no peeling, just wash!) and is a heart-healthy option with vitamins A, C, and K, plus additional nutritional benefits from potassium, magnesium, folate, and manganese. It is also high in antioxidants.
Easy to grow, a single tomato plant will produce many fruits that are incredibly versatile in the kitchen. Tomatoes are tasty eaten raw (solo or in salads) or cooked (as a sauce, stew, marinara sauce, ketchup, soup) or blended into juice. It contains lycopene, potassium, fiber, and vitamins C, B9, and K.
Consider growing two more different varieties—for example, a large Beefsteak style for slicing onto sandwiches and smaller cherry tomatoes for salads.
This dark, leafy green vegetable can be eaten raw in salads when the leaves are young and tender. The mature leaves can be cooked like spinach, blanched and frozen, or stir-fried. And the stalks can be grilled like asparagus.
It’s a hearty producer if you harvest the outside leaves of the plant and let the crown continue growing. Chard is high in fiber and minerals, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron, as well as vitamins A, E, C, and K.
If you are gardening in containers, realize you will need to water often. Choose plastic or glazed pots over terracotta, for better water retention. Larger pots work better than smaller ones for the same reason.
Get creative with your approach to mini gardens and use everything from window boxes, large flower pots, wooden crates, or even plastic totes! Consider hanging pots for vegetables or herbs. And “upside down” growing techniques work well for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, beans, and cucumbers.
Whatever helps you optimize the space you have, is the right choice. Just be sure your container offers excellent drainage, and your soil is of high quality.
Scale the Heights!
Another way to maximize garden space is by commingling vegetables of different heights. For example, you can grow root vegetables (carrots or radishes) in the same pot as shorter leafy plants (spinach, chard, kale, peppers, etc.). Then, by adding a trellis or stakes, you can also grow climbing plants (cucumbers, peas, or the vining varieties of beans or tomatoes).
In the heat of summer, the climbing crop can help shade tender greens and improve your container garden’s production. This method will also reduce your time spent weeding since crowded vegetable pots leave little room for opportunistic weeds!
With a large planter and a little planning, you can enjoy more than one crop in the same container. This can be done in various ways. Either plant one crop and remove it before planting a second, or plant crops that mature at different rates, for similar benefits.
For example, fresh spring lettuces or peas have short and early seasons. When that season ends, replace them with bean plants or other slower-maturing crops like eggplant or tomatoes.
Carrots and radishes can be planted at the same time since the radishes will mature and be gone before the carrots get very big.
Keeping it Simple
If you don’t want to add stakes, poles, or trellises, select compact “bush” varieties of plants like beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes, instead of their sprawling, vining cousins. Zucchini is particularly well suited for its own container.
Most importantly, don’t overdo it. It’s easy to be inspired in the spring, when shopping for seeds and plants, only to regret biting off too much by summer.
Plant what your family will eat and love, but only select a few items, especially if this is your first year of gardening. That way, you’re more likely to enjoy growing and eating your own food!