Are you planting a garden this summer? Even if you keep your garden small, you definitely want to include these three essential summer crops!
I am so excited to give you part two of The Family Garden series because this post is chock-FULL of helpful tips for what you most want to plant! I will be referring back to this post all.the.time this summer. I have a feeling you will, too, so be sure to pin it and share it with friends who loooove the taste of fresh tomatoes. 😉
MANY, MANY thanks to my friend Kallie for sharing her extensive knowledge and experience in writing this post!
The joy of taking part in creation and eating the fruit of your labors is one of the most satisfying aspects of gardening.
Any gardener will tell you that food grown in your own garden tastes better than store bought produce. Keeping a kitchen garden ensures the daily pleasure of feeding your family from the work of your own hands.
Three essential crops to plant this summer ::
#1 Tomatoes! The definitive summer crop.
First let’s talk about everyone’s favorite summer crop: the tomato! If you are like me you start dreaming about tomato sandwiches from the minute you put your first tomato seed or plant in the ground. Something about a tomato seems synonymous with summer.
The first step is to think about how you want to use the tomatoes. Do you want slicers for sandwiches, cherry or grape tomatoes for salads, paste tomatoes for salsa and pasta sauce, or all of the above?
After you pick your favorite tomato varieties there are a few more things to consider.
PRO TIPS FOR GROWING TOMATOES ::
- Full size tomato plants need support as they grow. Before you plant decide if you want to use poles, stakes, cages, growing panels or trellises to support them. Research the options, figure out what works best for your garden and purchase the necessary materials.
- Tomatoes need well-drained soil, full sun and adequate growing space. Pay attention to spacing requirements for each plant.
- Remember that soil health is the key to preventing pests and disease. The way to accomplish this is by increasing soil fertility:
- Turn your yard “waste” into composted gold for the garden. Utilize your fall leaves and grass clippings. You can use Ruth Stout’s heavy mulching, lasagna garden method of layering brown (leaves), green (grass), brown, green etc. The most exciting thing is that these natural yard products can be used as immediate mulch and fertilizer free of cost!
- For smaller gardens you can also use bagged mushroom compost or composted manures found at your local garden centers.
- Another option is to purchase mulch and compost in bulk from a local company. Additional mulch options would be peat moss and golden straw. Mulching helps suppress weed growth while also helping the soil retain moisture so don’t forget this very important step! Bare soil needs a cover.
- When watering, it is best to avoid the soil splashing onto the leaves of the plant. Two ways to prevent this is by clipping the bottom leaves of the plant and mulching around of the base. Make sure to put a good 3-6 inches of mulch for the best results.
- Plant in succession to prevent the harvest from becoming overwhelming. For tomatoes this means planting every 2 weeks, keeping in mind the amount of days to maturation, which will vary based on variety. Many varieties will continue to produce until the first frost.
RECIPE IDEAS ::
- Simple garden salsa (cherry tomatoes are my favorite for salsa)
- Make-ahead marinara sauce (just sub the same amount fresh tomatoes for canned)
#2 Lettuce. A daily staple.
No kitchen garden would be complete without lettuce. Eating a fresh, delicious salad every day is much more likely if you have lettuce readily available in your own garden.
Spring and fall are the ideal seasons for growing lettuce but it is possible to grow it year round with a little bit of planning.
PRO TIPS FOR GROWING LETTUCE ::
- Shade, variety, and water are key in the summer. There are two simple ways to provide for sun and shade:
- Plant your lettuce where it can get morning sun and afternoon shade.
- Plant lettuce between tall plants like tomatoes, corn and sunflowers which can provide necessary shade in the heat of summer.
- Make sure to plant heat tolerant varieties. We like Buttercrunch, Sierra, and Marveilles 4 Seasons.
- Lettuce seeds are very small so you don’t want to plant deep. We simply lay the seeds in the bed and lightly dust them with soil.
- Keeping the soil moist (not soggy) until the seeds germinate is essential so make sure you water really well.
- Remember to succession plant by sowing a small amount of seed every week through the summer for a continual harvest.
- Once the leaves are 4-6 inches long they are ready to harvest.
- It is best to harvest in the morning using scissors and cutting the outer leaves of the plant. Once lettuce bolts it becomes bitter and harvesting from the outside suppresses bolting and gives it a longer life span.
- Start planting cold-tolerant varieties at the end of August. Lettuce can handle cold temperatures and is very frost tolerant; however, if you get really serious about keeping your lettuce growing through the winter you might want to consider repurposing some old windows and making some cold frames.
RECIPE IDEAS ::
#3 Fresh herbs. The chef’s secret weapon.
Every kitchen garden needs herbs! Fresh herbs are extremely satisfying because they grow quickly and really enhance the flavor of your culinary dishes!
PRO TIPS FOR GROWING HERBS ::
- Pick your favorite herbs that you like to cook with and start with those.
- Keep a separate garden space very close to your house so it is easy to visit them several times a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
- Plant herbs together that have similar needs.
- Mediterranean herbs such as Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Sage and Lavender prefer dry and sandy soil and do well in full sun.
- Keep annual herbs in a separate bed so you know which ones are ok to rip out of the ground at the end of the season. My favorite annuals are basil and cilantro which also do well together because they prefer more moisture than the Mediterranean herbs.
- Two fail proof herbs are chives and peppermint.
- The good thing about chives is that even the flowers are edible! They have the flavor of garlic and onion and can be sautéed to add flavor to any savory dish.
- Peppermint is great to pop in your mouth after dinner or for making a refreshing tea in the sultry days of summer; however, it is important to note that it is very invasive. In order to keep it from taking over your herb garden it’s best to plant it in a large pot instead of directly in the ground.
- Edible flower varieties are dual purpose and can be planted with your herbs. They make your garden beautiful to the eye, and attractive to pollinators!
RECIPE IDEAS ::
The Family Garden Series ::
PART 1 :: Preparing before you plant.
PART 2 :: Three Essential Summer Crops.
Part 3 :: The How To’s of Attracting Pollinators (coming next week!)
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