While it can seem daunting to start a garden, it really just depends on which plants you choose. Some are notoriously fickle–eggplant, anyone?–while others need very little to thrive. Select your plants well and you’ll enjoy summer vegetables long after the days shorten and the temperature drops.
It All Starts With Soil
Before you plant, you’ll want your soil to be in the best shape possible. Test your soil with a basic kit to determine two key elements: the pH level and the N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) levels. Based on your soil type–clay, sandy, or silt–you’ll adjust and add elements to reach a dark, rich color with good water retention and nutrients.
Check Your Zone
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map recommends planting times for different crops based on your specific climate, as well as the specific plants that will thrive based on your zone’s temperature fluctuations. Check the map before you select your plant varieties, as some are breed for hotter or colder weather.
Ready, Set, Plant
While there are many plants that you could potentially grow in your new garden, some are both easier to grow and easier to prepare for future meals. Here are two recommendations for your green thumb.
These prolific plants need quite a bit of fertilizer, but once they establish fruit, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with a delicious deluge. Use a tomato cage to corral the fast-growing branches and be sure to groom the plant weekly during the height of summer. Plant marigold flowers around the base of your tomato plants to ward off pests, including tomato hornworms, root-knot nematodes, and more. Basil plants are another great complementary planting in the garden bed–as well as in delicious Italian tomato dishes. Pick tomatoes when they are deep red in color; squirrels and other pests will enjoy your tomatoes for you if you’re not careful and pay attention as they ripen.
How to prepare: Tomatoes are some of the easiest summer crops to eat–just pick, wash, and enjoy! If you want to store tomatoes for a longer period of time, consider canning salsa, preparing pasta sauce, or freezing your tomatoes whole for winter stews.
Nutrition: Looking for vitamins C and K? Tomatoes are a great option. They also provide folate, which is vital for pregnant women.
Before you run off plant ten zucchini plants, consider that each plant can produce up to ten pounds of the vegetable. In case you’re not sure–that’s a lot of zucchini bread. Consider planting one, maybe two, plants of this incredibly easy to grow vegetable and enjoy as the plant grows large, slightly prickly leaves, which shade the fast-growing fruits below. Keep a close eye on your plant, as zucchini can be difficult to spot and grow quickly, moving from an edible size to a woody, overdone size in less time than you think. Pick when the zucchini are about eight inches in length and about an inch in diameter.
How to prepare: For savory tastes, consider sauteing zucchini and garlic in olive oil for a simple side dish. Zucchini fritters are a nice substitute for fries, and it’s easy to add zucchini to soups, sauces, and pastas for extra servings of vegetables. You could also try “zoodles” instead of pasta noodles! For those with a sweet tooth, zucchini bread, muffins, and pancakes are all delicious options.
Nutrition: This vegetable is low in calories, making it a healthy option for those wanting to save space for chocolate zucchini cake later, and is naturally low in sugars. Enjoy the high levels of vitamin C and potassium as you enjoy your meal.
Whichever plants you decide to plant, consider the various ways that you can preserve the fruits of your labor. Canning, freezing, baking, and cellaring could all be an option, depending on the vegetable and your location. With some hard work, you could decrease your reliance on outside food sources while using your land to better your diet.