Grow Your Own Backyard Garden
Backyard Gardening: Affordable Family Fun
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to gardening as a way to be outdoors while staying home. If you have always wanted to have a backyard garden but keep putting it off, hopefully this will inspire you to get out there and get started.
When I was growing up we always had tomatoes, peppers and some mint in our backyard. It was rewarding because we turned the yard with shovels by ourselves, planted the vegetables when they were 4" tall, and when those veggies were on our dinner plate it just seemed to all come full circle.
That's how it is now for me with our backyard garden but on a much grander scale. We have a good sized garden that produces many varieties of vegetables and I am going to give you ideas on what to grow, what some plants look like in the growing process, and some pictures of what we have harvested. This is not complicated, just full of love for the goodness of organic food, a little hard work, and a feeling of feeding your family healthy food.
Radish seeds germinate, grow, and harvest in a matter of 30 days so they are awesome for young children to plant and see results quickly. Radishes have a strong taste but the process is easy and they are colorful. A whole radish is more sharp tasting than if you slice them for the kids to try (maybe with dressing?). Remember, you can always grow vegetables and give them to friends, neighbors, or a local food bank.
Lettuce also grows quickly and in many zones can handle early or late frost. Lettuce can be harvested from the time the leaves are a few inches tall to spreading out the harvest over several weeks as the plants grow. With their shallow roots, growing lettuce also works well in containers. Don't waste your money buying lettuce plants in the store, plant them straight from seed.
Onions are considered a staple in the kitchens of most cooks and they add extra taste to any dish in a natural way. We plant our onions very close together so that when they are young, we use them as scallions. This is a strategic move in that we pull every other one when we use the young onions, leaving proper space for a bulb onion to form. They are easy to grow and if stored properly, can be used for months after the harvest.
I was recently reminded of a tip about green onions. After using the green tips of a bunch on green onions, place the whole bunch in a tall glass with water to cover the white root part. This will keep your onions growing for several days more. My mother used to do this when I was a child and I just thought everyone did it!
Swiss Chard does great in cold weather and it tolerates hot summer days well also. It can last through the summer even in Texas, and carry into a fall harvest. We love to sauté them in just a little olive oil and melt some feta cheese over them.
If you pick the leaves when they are young, they can also be used in a salad. As you may know, leafy green vegetables are a great source of dietary fiber.
The two main varieties that grow well are bush beans or pole beans. Bush beans give you more of a grouping in your harvest and pole beans stretch out their harvest time. Green beans are one of the first vegetables infants learn to eat. Slap a little butter on them and there is nothing that compares to garden fresh green beans.
Sugar Snap Peas
We plant the climbing variety of Sugar Snap Peas named Sugar Daddy. These sugar snap peas are so good, they literally don't make it in to the house, they get eaten right as we pick them! (We have an organic garden so we don't worry about bugs!) They have an appealing crunch and are sweet to the taste, hence the name SUGAR Daddy. If your kids snub their noses at peas, try these, bet they change their mind!
Zucchini and Squash
A bush variety takes up some space, but if you don't have any trouble with squash vine borers, you will have more zucchini than you know what to do with. I often give 3-4 of these away a week while eating that many, making zucchini bread, and zucchini quiche! The plants love the late spring and early summer days.
A recent addition to our squash patch is patty pan squash, a small round and three dimentional fruit. They grow easily as do most squash and are very sweet and delicious!
Bell peppers, chili peppers, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, there's a pepper for everyone! Peppers do well in warm, but not hot months. They actually like temperatures below 90 F, but you can keep them productive with an organic mulch to cool them in the extreme heat.
We plant ours in the late spring, harvest a few, try to keep them alive during the hot summer and they take off like crazy in the fall. We have peppers until the first frost.
Happiest Pepper Ever!
When cutting open this pepper to use for dinner, I realized it had a smiley face on it's innards design. Have you ever seen a smiley face pepper or some other goofy fruit or vegetable?
Grow them in soil, a five-gallon bucket, or even a straw bed. The tubers are straightforward to grow from seed potatoes, and if you are brave, you can recycle and do this yourself. Just cut a potato in quarters and make sure you put at least one eye of the quarter potato planted downward. It is important that you continually mound the dirt around the base of the plant so the potato will always be covered by the dirt. You do not want the sunlight to directly hit your potato. Our favorite way to use them is making hash browns on a summer morning!
Okra is a popular vegetable in the south and is gaining popularity around the country. The height of a healthy, freestanding okra plant is an impressive sight in any garden. Okra likes the heat, grows quickly, has beautiful flowers and gives you a harvest of more than you know what to do with. Many people think of okra as mushy but I have learned to grill or sauté the okra whole after tossing it with just a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and it stays quite firm and delicious. Try it!
If you will be away from your garden when the okra is producing, get someone to come and pick it for you or they will get too big.
Most every household has someone in it who eats tomatoes. They can be used in a variety of ways: fresh, stewed, salads, soups - and multiply those ways by infinite variety of recipes. So what kind of tomatoes should you grow? Consider the region you live in and go from there. You can choose from early varieties (Early Girl), sturdy varieties (Celebrity), grape and cherry variety (Sweet 100s), Roma variety, and the seed companies are always coming up with new crazy varieties! We planted at least six varieties of tomatoes with some new ones this year: Tomatillos and Speckled Roman. While all these varieties sound inviting, remember to plant varieties that works well in your growing zone.
Many folks love to get a jump on tomato harvest and and in order to get early tomatoes, you have to start seedlings inside, most likely near the end of winter to have your plants ready to go after the first frost. Don't forget to harden them up first before setting them outside in the ground. Or you may want to use a cold frame to get your seedlings going.
Also here is an excellent reference on pruning your tomato plants of the suckers they put out. Removing the suckers is an important step in growing good, healthy tomatoes.
P.S. Plant marigolds between your tomato plants as they have natural characteristics that repel insects, especially when companion planted next to tomatoes. Basil is another tomato companion plant.
Last But Not Least!
A small herb garden can do wonders for your cooking and basically, they are very hardy plants that need little attention. Start with the basics: basil, oregano, rosemary and sage. These are all very easy to grow and so worth the money you would spend on a plant or even better, start from seeds. Also, you can dry your herbs for use during the winter.
Our cilantro, fennel, thyme, and lemon balm has been growing year-round by reseeding itself - absolutely no work on our part (except weeding). The trophy of gardening!
We made some herb infused olive oil recently and the aroma and taste was an unexpected sensation to me. One tip, herb infused oils do not have that long of a shelf life.
Do you have a backyard garden?
Grouping Certain Plants Together Is a Defense All In Itself!
Companion planting is when you plant two (or more) different types of plants next to or near each other. They work like pals to help each other grow and keep the bugs away. We have marigolds planted in between our tomatoes and basil also works with tomatoes. Here is a companion planting guide to help you match what you are growing to a suitable companion.
This is so easy, you would be remiss not to try at least one pairing!
Next time you purchase a large plant from the nursery, don't recycle (or throw away) the container. Why? Repurpose a 5- or 10-gallon container by using it to collect your harvested vegetables and carry it straight to the hose for a pre-rinse. The water will simply flow out the holes in the bottom of the container. No dirt messes in your kitchen sink!
Compost, compost, compost!
Here are some very basic tips for soil preparation.
Choose a sunny location for your garden that gets at least 6 hours of full sun every day. Even 8-10 hours is fine. If this is your very first time to prepare the soil, I recommend you rent a roto-tiller to really get the soil turned well. You will need to add compost to your soil to help break it down and to attract worms and other good helpers. We use shredded leaves to mulch our plants after they have sprouted and this layer of mulch is incredibly important in high temperature zones as it provides a layer to keep in the moisture. It also helps with weed control.
You may want to have your soil tested before you begin to understand it's make up. Experts say we should have 5% organic material in our soil and most soil only has 1%. Use your county extension service or check with a local grower to have your soil tested.
Gardening Is A Wholesome Family Activity
Involve Your Children
Everyone eats the harvest so why not have everyone earn it? That sounds more harsh than intended but it's only fair that everyone puts in some time from weeding to pulling the goods out of the ground! From the time our adult children were young we involved them in the garden and guess what? You know the answer! They love to grow their own crops now and have surprised me time and time again at their love of this hobby. One of my daughters currently works for a non-profit that teaches about sustainability and organic farming.
It will be helpful if you can have the proper tools for your young children so invest in some childrens size garden tools. This will make them feel special and help them perform their duties better since the tools will fit their hands better. I love the child size wheel barrows too!
A simple pictorial blog as we go through the stages of our backyard garden.
As most of the country has been experiencing extremely wet conditions, we are of no exception. Because of that, our garden is growing well but so are the weeds so I will not put a picture up this year until they are under control!
I will say our asparagus bed has been producing unceasingly for 2 months and is still going strong!
Late Summer 2017
It was a very dry few months but we kept things growing using our watering system.
Late Winter 2017
It's called winter, but seriously it really is like early spring. I'll go with the official calendar! The garden is tilled and ready for onion planting the end of January. Other cold weather crops will go in the ground soon after.
Late Spring 2020
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Joanie Ruppel